Blog | 17th Apr, 2013

Basin Plan implementation gets underway

For better or worse, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan became law in November 2012. After the many trials and tribulations that went into the plan’s creation, we are now in a different phase – implementation.  This stage will last until 2019 when the Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) that determine how much water can be taken out of river systems come into full effect.  There is a huge amount of work to be done by the MDBA and the Basin states to achieve the Plan’s objective of managing water resources in an integrated and sustainable way.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on progress to make sure the Basin Plan delivers the best possible outcomes for our rivers, floodplains and wetlands.  We plan to update you regularly, along with opportunities to get involved. So here’s the latest from our recent conversations with the MDBA.

First cab off the rank is the basin-wide annual watering priorities for 2013-14. This document will guide the use of environmental water next year – there’s currently around 1500 GL of entitlements on the books – and is the first attempt at a basin-wide scale. As this plan has to be ready by the end of June, there won’t be much opportunity for consultation beforehand, but the MDBA is intending it to be a living document so there will be an opportunity to have your say once it comes out.

A second major priority is the constraints management strategy that the MDBA has to complete within a year of the Basin Plan coming into effect, by November 2013. This strategy is looking at the barriers to delivering environmental water, things like dam structures and levee banks, rules that control how water is delivered and the flooding of private land, and will make recommendations on what can be done about them to improve environmental outcomes. Our colleagues at Goulburn Valley Environment Group and the Environmental Farmers Network are assisting the MDBA in setting up the consultation process for this strategy, which will be mostly with the people directly affected by potential changes.

A third priority, and from our point of view a very important one, is setting up a process for assessing potential changes to the SDLs. The Basin Plan has an SDL adjustment mechanism which allows potential changes in 2016, but only if the changes provide equivalent or better environmental outcomes. The question is, how do you compare different environmental outcomes in a meaningful way? How does watering red gums compare with providing opportunities for fish to migrate? And where do ecosystem processes like moving sediments or nutrients fit in? To help them with this difficult task, the MDBA is establishing a group of scientists to assess their work, which they hope to complete by the end of 2013. We’ll let you know who is on the scientific panel when it is announced.

The MDBA is undertaking many other pieces of work, including a review of some of the groundwater SDLs in NSW and northern Victoria and a big work program in the northern basin. Fortunately for us the National Water Commission (NWC) has published an Initial Report on Basin Plan implementation which provides a guide to what’s going on. The report sets out the timelines for the various parts of the Plan and who is responsible for implementing them. It also indicates what progress the NWC expects to see when it conducts a full audit in 2015.

We’ll do our best to keep you in the loop with this complex process without making your heads hurt too much. The Basin Plan is being held up as an international model for best practice in water management so it’s really important that it drives the outcomes we are seeking – healthy river systems!

Stay tuned!