This week the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) released its assessment of a suite of efficiency projects, which could generate environmental outcomes equivalent to 605 gigalitres (Gl).
Thee projects, nominated by Basin state governments, aim to use water more efficiently whilst achieving the environmental outcomes sought in the Murray–Darling Basin Plan
MDBA Executive Director Environmental Management, Carl Binning, said the projects include new infrastructure to enable river managers to get water to important environmental sites such as Red Gum and Black Box floodplains communities.
"Projects will also implement changes to the rules that govern river operations to allow water for the environment to be more effectively managed," Mr Binning said.
"Should the projects be implemented, this would mean more water can remain in the system for other users, including households and industry, and no further water recovery will be required in the southern Basin," Mr Binning said.
The MDBA has determined that 605 gigalitres can be achieved through implementing the nominated projects which, if approved, would result in an adjustment to the sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) in the southern Basin.
The National Farmers' Federation Vice President Les Gordon has welcomed the start of detailed consultation.
"The SDL mechanism enables the Basin Plan water recovery target to be reduced by up to 650 gigalitres where equivalent environmental outcomes can be achieved with less water – the so called 'down water'," Mr Gordon said.
"While the MDBA’s draft analysis indicates State Governments haven't come up with the solutions to deliver the full potential of the maximum offset that is possible, the result means that the water recovery required to implement the Basin Plan is complete, and indeed in some areas, over recovery has occurred."
Cotton Australia General Manager Michael Murray also cautiously welcomed the news.
"Although this is a preliminary assessment by the MDBA and is subject to further consultation, it is important news for cotton growers and other irrigators, and a welcome step forward,” Mr Murray says.
"Cotton Australia and other water user groups have long advocated that the Basin Plan had to look further than just simple water recovery, and the MDBA's announcement is an encouraging sign that such measures are considered valid."
"Irrigators and the communities they support will have more confidence in the Murray Darling Basin Plan now that the overall sustainable diversion limit can be locked in. Although we are still working through the detail of the projects, the MDBA's announcement is welcomed," Mr Murray concluded.
The NFF will be consulting with State Governments on the detail of the MDBA's analysis of their down-water projects, and is encouraging those affected by the Basin Plan to make their voice heard by visiting www.getinvolved.mdba.gov.au.