Basin communities are urging State and Commonwealth water ministers to open a fresh chapter on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s implementation when they meet tomorrow.
“Sustainable Diversion Limits are the Basin Plan’s centrepiece and are already in effect, while its ‘Bridging the Gap’ recovery target of 2075 billion litres has been exceeded,” said NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO, Claire Miller.
“With more than 2100 billion litres recovered from the irrigated agriculture sector under the Plan, the pathway forward is how to work together to get the best environmental outcomes.”
The Plan has already removed one in five litres of irrigation water (or almost one in three litres if pre-Basin Plan reforms are included). This has reduced diversions for irrigation, town and industry from 35% of Basin inflows to just 28%.
“We urge Basin Ministers to think outside the box to maximise environmental outcomes and move away from the blunt policy tools of the past,” said Ms Miller.
The pathway, based on multiple reviews and the implementation lessons learned so far, is clear:
1. Keep the SDLAM socioeconomic test to avoid adverse third-party impacts.
2. More time is needed to get SDLAM projects completed, whether they are contributing to the 605GL in ‘downwater’ or up to 450GL in ‘upwater’.
3. Flexibility is required for new and amended ‘downwater’ SDLAM projects.
4. ‘‘Upwater’ projects should focus on off-farm savings, to avoid further shrinking the consumptive pool and further undermining farmers’ capacity to survive the next drought.
5. Basin communities have great ideas and should be at the centre of decision-making.
“SDLAM ‘downwater’ projects are essential for the environment, and can’t simply be replaced by buybacks, that’s a lose-lose,” said Ms Miller.
“More buybacks also make no sense when the water recovered now can’t be delivered to achieve Plan objectives due to constraints such as rules against flooding properties.”
“Voluntary flood easements need to be negotiated with landholders but it will take years. In the meantime, great ideas are out there, including a Murray Irrigation Limited proposal to enable water to reach a wider array of wetlands, but the Plan is too rigid to allow new projects.”
NSWIC is pleased to see the Ministerial Council’s Agenda Item 2 specify: “All governments have committed to delivering the Basin Plan, let us work together to make it happen”.
“This will require MinCo to make key decisions to make working together possible in practice. We keenly await the outcomes,” said Ms Miller.