Water policy is one of the most complicated and technical aspects of our policy portfolio. There are so many players and layers of rules and regulations which ultimately define access to water for productive purposes – particularly in the Murray Darling Basin.
Here at Australian Farmers, we're putting together a series of frequently asked questions on water policy.
Today we take a look at the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and in particular, the Northern Basin Review, which is currently in its final stages.
The Murray Darling Basin is vast.
At over 1 million square kilometres it is an area that captures 14% of the Australian land mass. In a country as climatically diverse and variable as Australian, it is only natural that the environmental, economic and social conditions differ considerably across the Basin.
The northern Basin differs from the south in that it is drier and much flatter. A summer dominant rainfall pattern persists in the north producing falls lower, and more inconsistent, than those of the south. Year to year variability in rainfall and flows is also greater than in the south.
Among other things, the Basin Plan sets the overall limit on the amount of water that can be taken for consumptive use. This limit seeks to balance the needs of communities and irrigated agriculture while providing water for the Environment. For surface water, the Basin Plan determined that 2,750 GL/y would need to be recovered from the 2009 baseline diversion level (BDL).
In striking the Basin Plan in 2012, recovery target of 390 GL was set for the Northern Basin. However, at the time, it was acknowledged that our understanding of environmental conditions in the Northern Basin needed to be improved. So, in finalising the plan, the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MBDA) agreed to do further research and investigations on the northern Basin to establish if there was a case for changing the 390 GL recovery amount. This further research is known as the Northern Basin Review.
The Northern Basin Review began in 2013, with the aim to:
The review comprises several projects to gain the important information needed.
The Australian Government has already recovered 278GL of water for the environment in the Northern Basin.
The finalisation of the Northern Basin Review is eagerly awaited and the final results are expected to be released soon. It is anticipated that the MDBA will make a decision on its recommendation for a new SDL for the Northern Basin in mid-October.
Ultimately, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Barnaby Joyce in consultation with the Water Ministers from the Basin States, will make the final decision. This decision will then have to be accepted by the Australian Parliament as a formal amendment to the Basin Plan.
After the MDBA makes its decision in mid-October, and before the finalisation of the amendments to go before the Parliament, there will be a period of formal public consultation for at least 8 weeks.
Stay tuned to Australian Farmers over the coming weeks. We’ll be bringing you more info, stories and policy ideas about the Northern Basin. Once the public consultation starts, will be posting information about how you can get involved and have your say.
We need to strike the right balance between the environment and socio-economic concerns of the northern Basin is essential so as to ensure community confidence in the long term success of the Basin Plan.