Murray Darling Basin Plan five-year assessment draft report released

The Productivity Commission has released its draft report on the Murray Darling Basin Plan implementation, finding significant progress had been made in environmental water savings.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan: Five-year assessment found that significant progress has been made with about 20% of the water that was used for agriculture now dedicated to the environment and evidence of environmental improvement.

Other progress has been made, including:

  • Recovery of water entitlements to bridge the gap between poorly‑managed historical use and the new Sustainable Diversion Limits is almost complete.

  • New management arrangements, including those for managing both environmental watering and water trading are in place and are working well.

An immediate improvement is nevertheless required in two important elements of the Plan:

  • The development and accreditation of Water Resource Plans is behind schedule. Basin Governments should agree to extend the 2019 deadline where there is a material risk to the quality of plans.

  • Basin Governments should substantially revise the Basin Plan Evaluation Framework and develop a monitoring strategy. This will enable the impacts of the Plan to be evaluated and communicated effectively in 2020 and 2025, and the Plan to be reviewed in 2026.

The draft report finds that “these complex challenges are made more difficult because of the way Basin Governments have developed and agreed to the projects. The process has lacked transparency and candour with stakeholders who are concerned about potential impacts.”

There are major shortcomings in the current institutional and governance arrangements and these pose a significant risk to successful implementation. Now is the time for Basin Governments to do some heavy lifting and provide strategic direction.

It recommends:

  • Basin Governments should take joint responsibility for leading implementation, not leave it to the Murray‑Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).

  • The Basin Officials Committee should be assigned responsibility for managing the significant risks to successful implementation, including the integrated program of projects.

“By 2024, Governments are to deliver an ambitious suite of projects. If these succeed, they will deliver the same environmental outcomes with less water, easing the burden on farmers and Basin communities and saving taxpayers about $480 million dollars,” the Commission said.

“In addition, the Plan requires that an extra 450 GL (about 20% more than water recovered to date) be acquired for the environment, so long as there are no negative socioeconomic impacts.

“The Commission has found that some of the timelines are unrealistic and that institutional and governance arrangements are deficient.”

The draft report is available here.

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