This year was always going be a pivotal time for the basin plan. Major changes, which were agreed back in 2012 when the basin plan was created, have all come together this year.
These changes are fundamental to the future of water management in the basin and are designed to increase certainty around water use in the basin.
In addition to the planned changes, a game-changing item was added to our schedule this year — the Water Compliance Review.
Requested by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and released late last month, the MDBA and an Independent Review Panel concluded that all state government regulators, particularly in NSW and Queensland, must be more active, consistent and transparent in their compliance activities.
The MDBA also needs to do more.
Without delay, we are working to put the review’s recommendations into action, including a clear timetable for governments to deliver their improvements. It is imperative that the MDBA is more assertive in our role to oversee compliance and enforcement across the board.
I will be reporting on our progress early in the new year.
A critical change this year, along with the amendments to the settings for the northern part of the basin, was our recent proposal to amend the basin plan to increase the water extraction allowable from southern rivers, while delivering equivalent environmental benefits.
This proposed change to the plan, if enacted, will mean 605Gl of water that would have been recovered for use in the environment, could stay in agricultural use through state governments’ proposed projects that would manage water for the environment more efficiently. Our recommendation is due to the Commonwealth Minister by December 15 for his consideration.
Back when it was signed, there were good reasons behind building this kind of opportunity for change into the basin plan. It allows us to give effect to what we learn, to grow our collective understanding of how we can best live and work productively in the basin and protect the very basis of that success — a healthy river environment.
And during the past five years, we have learned an enormous amount, about basin communities, about water in the environment and the needs of the birds, the fish and the basin’s web of life as a whole.
This knowledge has been channelled into the 2017 evaluation report card that looks back over the past five years of experience with the basin plan and shines a light on where things are working and where we could improve the way we’re implementing the plan. We will be releasing this report card in the coming week.
At this early stage, there are some good indications the plan is working as expected and is on track, with positive signs of improving environmental health and evidence that farmers are adapting, helped by investments in more modern and efficient irrigation infrastructure.
The review is giving us a valuable direction for the next phase of implementation. There’s more on this on our website at mdba.gov.au
As expected, it’s been a big year, but there’s more work to do in 2018 to ensure the basin plan stays on track. Our focus will be squarely on working with the states to complete their water resource plans, to help them turn their Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment projects into reality, and to lift the compliance performance of all jurisdictions.
We will continue, along with everyone in the basin, to make sure we grow and share our bank of knowledge and build the tools needed to achieve a healthy working basin.
— Phillip Glyde