The much-anticipated Guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was released last Friday by the MDB Authority, to enormous public scrutiny and media attention (a quick Google search reveals 147,000 web entries over the past week).
The ‘Guide’ begins by setting out the need for an additional 3000 to 7600 gigalitres (GL) of surface water to be returned to the Basin’s rivers. This is to ensure an ecologically sustainable condition is achieved, as required by the Commonwealth Water Act 2007.
However, on economic and social ‘optimisation’ grounds, the MDBA has reduced the environmental recovery target range to 3000-4000 GL. This corresponds to a reduction in average irrigator water use of 22-29%. Reflecting the large variations in current water extractions and ecological condition, target reductions are not even across the Basin’s 20 river valleys.
An additional 99-227 GL/year has also been slated for recovery from groundwater users to protect groundwater-dependent ecosystems.
Commonwealth (federal) funds are already available to purchase about 2000 GL of the target 3000-4000 GL, through the 2008 ‘Water for the Future’ fund.
The Prime Minister and Federal Water Minster have made it clear that there is a long way to go with the public consultation process before a final decision on environmental water recovery will be agreed. The Basin Plan also has to be approved by our federal parliament. Given we currently have a knife-edge balance in federal political representation, and with enormous concerns being expressed by potentially affected rural communities, it is too early to call how and when a final decision will be reached.
I will keep you up to date as the conversations and negotiations develop, as they no doubt will, over the coming weeks and months.
You can read or download the ‘Guide’ at: www.mdba.gov.au/basin_plan