Recovering an additional 450 GL would be the equivalent of removing another 19% of the higher-reliability water remaining in the consumptive pool for growing food and fibre across the southern Murray-Darling Basin.
“The new federal water minister Tanya Plibersek has already acknowledged that delivering the extra 450 GL promised to South Australia will be difficult,” said NSWIC CEO Claire Miller.
“Our analysis demonstrates the substantial socioeconomic and water market impacts of recovering even more water from what’s left to grow food and fibre.”
“It also shows the 450’s intended outcomes in the lower lakes and Coorong are already being met, even in the severe 2019 drought, with the 2100 GL already recovered under the Basin Plan.”
“It highlights the need to change course on the Basin Plan, away from the focus on simplistic volumes of recovery as the only measure of success, towards whether the Plan is delivering what was intended, that is, more robust ecosystem resilience and sustainable diversion limits.”
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has already shifted more than 2100 GL of water out of irrigated agriculture, over four Sydney Harbours.
This 2100 GL is in addition to the annual average 18,600 GL that was not diverted or intercepted under the Plan’s 2009 baseline. This water recovery has effectively dropped irrigation, town and industry’s share of total pre-Plan inflows from 35% to 28%.
“The Water Minister in her recent State of the Environment report credited this water recovery with saving the Basin rivers in the severe 2019 drought. This is what the Plan is intended to do.”
The second review of the 450’s Water for the Environment Special Account, which the minister has promised to table in Parliament this session, is expected to reinforce the findings of the first.
The first review in 2020 found that recovering 450 GL would cost at least three times more than the budgeted $1.575 billion. The Productivity Commission in 2018 highlighted the 450 GL could be recovered but be unusable due to delivery constraints, such as needing to negotiate voluntary flood easements with thousands of landowners.
“Just adding more water does not address the greatest threats to native biodiversity in the Basin’s riverine systems, such as European carp accounting for 90% of fish biomass in the rivers,” said Ms Miller.
“We are advocating for the 450 GL funds to be reinvested into complementary measures, to directly address environmental challenges such as feral species and habitat loss, and improve biodiversity and conservation outcomes.”
“This can happen alongside a healthy agricultural sector. In fact, irrigation infrastructure operators, irrigation industries and landholders are already working with the state and federal environmental water holders to get more environmental water where it needs to go.”
The analysis shows NSW’s 212.4 GL share of the additional 450 GL equates to recovering:
“Irrigated agriculture has been hit hard by water reforms, and we’ve got to seriously look after what’s left. We need to be working with industry and Basin communities to deliver the Basin Plan’s intended environmental outcomes.”
“The 450 GL was meant to have socio-economic neutrality, but it’s simply impossible to take such a large amount of water out of communities and not have an impact.”
“This shouldn’t turn into an agriculture vs environment debate – official reviews such as the Productivity Commission have shown the Basin Plan’s focus on volumetric targets is increasingly detached from environmental outcomes, too.”
The full Report is available [HERE].
 1111-BPKId-water-resource-assessments-development-baseline.pdf (mdba.gov.au);
26 November Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL)s as at 1 ~ surface water.XLSX (mdba.gov.au)