The Draft of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been again held back from its projected release date of late July–early August. An announcement by MDBA Chair Craig Knowles late last week says the Authority now aims to release the Draft in November, three to four months later than originally planned, and a month later than the mid-October release announced on 3 August.
This further delay is intended to let the MDBA and the five Basin states achieve ‘a higher degree of collaboration and joint ownership …(of the plan)’.
The previous delay was to allow time to address issues raised by Basin irrigators and communities, as well as the state governments, since the Guide to the Draft came out last October. Some scientists had also raised concerns about the need for another review of the underpinning science.
In his 11 August statement, MDBA Chairman Craig Knowles acknowledged the expertise of the states in water management, and their willingness to cooperate in ‘a forward program of work’.
This conciliatory approach by Knowles is sorely needed. Much angst has been generated between the Sates and Commonwealth over the Basin Plan development, and anything Knowles can do to re-build the relationship(s) will be fundamental to getting a good outcome. As much, if not more so, than the need to get support from irrigators and the public.
Knowles’ earlier press release (3 August), also stated that the Authority recognised it needed more time to bring in relevant points from reviews of the science behind the plan. This may have been stimulated by calls by the ‘Wentworth Group’, widely reported across national media in June, for a new independent science review. National and international reviews had been undertaken in April last year, but significant scientific analyses have occurred since then, including those done since the guide was released in October 2010.
Knowles has announced that a new science review panel, led by CSIRO’s Dr Bill Young, is examining whether the hydrological and ecological models used in the MDB planning process, and the scientific data and assumptions behind them, are robust. I am on that review panel.
The MDBA website says this review is due to report in August, and for its findings to be publicised later when the Draft is released.
With allocations for irrigators looking as if they’re at reasonable levels again, environmental flows being delivered, and good figures for salinity in the lower Murray over recent weeks, the Murray-Darling Basin as a whole is having a chance to recover from the long drought.
In other words, the floods of last summer have given the MDBA breathing space – both politically and environmentally.
In my view it is sensible of Craig Knowles to use that space ‘to share ideas and suggestions for the plan and its implementation’. If, as he hopes, that process results in ‘collaboration and joint ownership’ of the plan by the States and Basin communities, it will be well worth the additional wait.