Cross-portfolio Murray-Darling Basin Plan matters
This chapter highlights some of the key issues discussed during the hearing
on cross-portfolio Murray-Darling Basin Plan matters on 2 March 2018.
The committee heard from the Water Division of the Department of
Agriculture and Water Resources, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the
Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and the Commonwealth Environmental
Implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
The Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water
Resources, Mr Malcolm Thompson, delivered an opening statement which updated
the committee on the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. He noted
that around 2100 gigalitres (GL) of the original 2750 GL water recovery target
has been secured while $4 billion of Commonwealth funds has been invested in
irrigation infrastructure to deliver water efficiency savings. Mr Thompson also
noted that the Commonwealth had committed an additional $9.1 million over three
years to increase the compliance capacity of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority
The committee asked questions of the department and MDBA regarding
consultation on the sale of Snowy Hydro. MDBA told the committee that there is
a requirement for Snowy Hydro to release a certain volume of water into the
Murray and Murrumbidgee systems each year and that an assurance has been
provided that these volumes will remain unchanged.
Progress towards targets
MDBA provided the committee with an update on the progress towards the
long-term targets specified in Schedule 5 of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The
Basin Plan review conducted in 2017 found early signs at a local level that
there have been environmental improvements and they are on track to meet the targets.
Northern Basin Review
The committee sought a summary of the Northern Basin Review, including
the reasons for the review and the research approach taken. Seven research
projects were conducted to understand the ecological relationships between
water and native fish, native vegetation and water birds. MDBA partnered with
institutions including CSIRO, University of New England and Charles Sturt
University and brought together expert panels to conduct the research. The
research was subsequently independently peer reviewed.
Compliance and transparency measures
MDBA provided the committee with an update on measures to increase
compliance and transparency. MDBA is now publicly reporting on its management
of complaints received regarding compliance issues. In addition, MDBA has set
up an office of compliance and tripled the resources devoted to compliance.
MDBA is now publishing regular progress reports on states' compliance
with water resource plans. Furthermore, in 2017, the basin water ministers
agreed to the development of a compact which sets out the commitments of each
of the basin states in relation to compliance and improvement. MDBA informed
the committee that it was developing the compact as well as an ongoing
reporting process to complement it.
Use of telemetry
The committee raised concerns about the lack of telemetry in monitoring water
usage. Officials explained that while there is a recommendation in the
compliance review to expand the usage of metering, there are difficulties involved
in using telemetry. These include:
poor telecommunications infrastructure;
the significant cost of repairing instruments;
greater overland flow in the north of the basin than the south;
difficulties in accurately measuring water going through a very
large diameter pipe.
In response to a recommendation from the Ken Matthews' 'Independent
review of water management and compliance in NSW', a taskforce was established
comprising representatives from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder,
MDBA, and various NSW agencies.
The body was tasked with delivering an interim solution within 90 days by way
of immediate options for the protection of environmental water in the NSW
component of the northern basin. The more enduring solution would be made
available before the 2019 deadline for the finalisation of water resource
The committee sought an update on this taskforce. Officials told the
committee that the taskforce, established in early 2018, has met three times
with the most recent meeting comprising a two-day workshop.
A discussion paper on options is currently under development and will be
published by the NSW government for stakeholder comment. The committee was
informed that the immediate options could be in place by the end of May.
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