Hello BREWN members and associates

Thanks to the three people who provided feedback on the draft Technical Working Group workshop notes circulated on 19th February. Suggestions will be incorporated.

At this stage there is not enough new material to warrant a BREWN meeting before the next Northern Basin Advisory Committee (NBAC) meeting in Moree on 8th and 9th April. It is expected that proposals requiring review and feedback will be developed at that meeting.

BREWN is passing on the results of our deliberations to NBAC as it develops advice on what should be included in the Northern Basin Work Plan. The suggested work plan tasks submitted to MDBA by the BREWN Technical Working Group are:

A. Integrate currently disjointed and poorly connected monitoring and evaluation; identify and address the gaps, particularly for biological indicators; establish a reliable benchmark against which future trends in system health can be assessed (Note: current activities were recognised)
B. Establish a concrete link between flow regimes and ecological outcomes that is convincing for non-scientists, with a strong emphasis on defining environmental objectives in tangible terms
C. Coordinate flow modification and non flow activities (which are commonly stand-alone), and formulate an holistic response to the achievement of desired ecological outcomes
D. Model the relative practicality and environmental outcomes of recovering different classes of water in a range of locations
E. Review 143 GL within a framework of new science, improved hydrology, and environmental/ economic/social balance
F. Investigate and document all possible supply and efficiency measures that have the potential to increase Northern Basin SDLs and provide more water for productive purposes
G. Prepare and deliver information sessions to explain in detail how the model has produced the numbers in the Plan for the Northern Basin
H. Identify several different scenarios for water recovery based on classes of water, location, timing of delivery, and any other relevant factors; model these scenarios to ascertain whether the same volume of recovered water results in different flow regimes at Bourke, Louth and the Talyawalka Anabranch
I. Extend catchment modelling to include nutrient loads and pollutants; the eWater model with an ecological response model attached could be considered
J. Develop a strategic gauge enhancement program to enhance modelling capabilities
K. Add a column to the targets/indicators table for each catchment in the Plan to show the improvement from baseline to Plan conditions
L. Clarify the 2009 baseline for the Border Rivers
M. Review the science/hydrology/socioeconomic relativities with a view to achieving the Plan objective of maximising economic, social and environmental benefits
N. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the value of ecosystem services provided by additional water for the environment in the Barwon-Darling
O. Investigate the possibility of discriminating in favour of highly irrigation-dependent communities when it comes to water recovery, with special attention to the different types of water recovery

It is expected that these projects will be combined with suggestions from other NBAC members and refined to become the advice to MDBA on the Work Plan.

At the last meeting in Dubbo MDBA Chair Craig Knowles said that the socio-economic impact of the Basin Plan is the most critical issue to address. The macro studies done to date inflame communities. Fine-grain detail is needed. Local government has to be part of the mix: they must be asked for their help, and government and communities must invest in them to take on this role. Craig Knowles wants this to be the one thing NBAC does with excellence. He wants baselines locked down so that trends can then be monitored.

The Committee discussed the development of a practical community wellbeing index based on selected economic and social indicators, with its implementation to be negotiated with Councils. It was agreed to form a social and economic subcommittee to progress a social and economic project for 2012/13. There was also general interest in the development of a water recovery program in the Northern Basin that minimises buyback in highly irrigation dependent communities.

$1.5 million has been allocated to the Work Plan for the 2012/13 financial year. Initial Northern Basin Work Plan projects proposed by MDBA for 2012/13 and discussed with NBAC are:

• Science Review Project $200,000
• Data Set purchase $600,000
• Water requirements projects $100,000
• Groundwater projects $250,000
• Social and economic project $250,000
• Communications & engagement $100,000

While these initial projects are being undertaken, projects for 2013/14 and 2014/15 will be developed, where appropriate based on the results of the initial projects.

The next meeting of the Northern Basin Advisory Committee is in Moree on 8th and 9th April. The major focus will be on:

• Social and economic analysis
• Communications and engagement

The result is expected to be firm proposals for projects in these areas for the Work Plan.

A Northern Basin Science Forum is being proposed by Guy Roth, Roth Rural and Regional, at Goondiwindi on 13th and 14th May. NBAC will discuss this in Moree.

Views, suggestions and questions are most welcome. A survey will be circulated shortly to gauge attitudes towards current issues, with a particular emphasis on socio-economics.

Regards

Bruce McCollum

With the Northern Basin Work Program now under development, it is timely that the science on which the Basin Plan is predicated is subject to the closest possible scrutiny. This includes the ecology, the hydrology and the socio-economics.

Some of the key questions are:
* What environmental objectives are intended to be achieved in the Barwon-Darling by the 143 GL? Are they appropriate?
* What are the key risk factors that may limit the achievement of these objectives? (eg weakness of link between flow regimes and ecological outcomes, physical ability of on allocation water to reach target locations)
* Can the environmental objectives be achieved with less water? How? Where from? Can the SDL adjustment mechanism be used?
* How should the programs of the various holders of environmental water (planned and held) be coordinated? What is CEW’s role in this regard?
* How was the figure of 143 GL chosen by MDBA?
o Specifically, how were the (x ML/day for y days in z% of years) figures for Bourke, Louth and Wilcannia established?
o How close are these flows to being met under current conditions?
* Will in catchment recovery (eg 15 GL in Border Rivers) contribute to the 143 GL or any alternative figure?
* Why have historic contributions not been credited in the Border Rivers as they have been in other valleys? Why has the impact of state water plans on levels of access not been assessed?
* Has the relative practicality of using on allocation and off allocation water to meet flow targets been modelled?
* What degree of confidence is there in the current socio-economic impact analysis at the farm and town level as distinct from the macroeconomic level?
* How can theoretical improvements in Barwon-Darling ecological outcomes be valued in comparison to productivity losses in the Border Rivers and other upstream catchments?
* Should the freely-conceded limitations of MDBA socio-economic impact analysis result in the use of the precautionary principal to the same degree as it is applied to environmental impacts?
* What items are we proposing for inclusion in the Work Program, and what are their priorities?

The workshop on 6th February will address these issues. The intention is to make sure that the Northern Basin Work Program clarifies all the major uncertainties between now and 2015.

CURRENT STATUS of Basin Plan

The proposed Basin Plan (current version August) is now with Minister Burke after consideration by the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (see below). The Minister has asked MDBA to consider consensus comments and State comments. The most significant changes for us are the sustainable diversion limit (SDL) adjustment mechanism and the apportionment of downstream contributions. The intention is to have the Plan adopted by Parliament this year.  However, time is running out and the Prime Minister has announced an extra 450 GL of water recovery by 2024 (see below).  The implications of this are not yet known.

High Level Summary of the Basin Ministers’ collective comments on the Proposed Basin Plan – August

Summary of Ministers’ comments How the Authority has addressed
  1. Matter: SUSTAINABLE DIVERSION LIMIT (SDL) ADJUSTMENT MECHANISM

The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (Council) recommends including in the Basin Plan a new provision outlining a mechanism for adjusting SDLs.

The method should be transparent, legally robust, based on best available science, repeatable and based on the information and method used to determine the 2750 GL/yr reduction.

The mechanism should determine the quantum of SDL adjustment (within a range of 2400–3200GL/yr) by an objective scoring method.

Council requests that the MDBA develop the mechanism in consultation with jurisdictions, including guidelines outlining this method and that these guidelines accompany the Basin Plan.

Council requests that the adjustment mechanism be able to assess proposals by 30 June 2015.

Council recommends the development of a work program of SDL adjustment initiatives.

Council envisages that the Environmental Watering Plan would take into account the SDL Adjustment Mechanism.

Agreed and adopted

Changes:
A new Part 3 has been added to Chapter 6, inclusive of 13 new provisions.

A new Schedule 5 has been included, outlining a mechanism for adjusting Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs).

The Authority has included an SDL Adjustment Mechanism in the proposed Basin Plan.

These provisions are designed to allow changes to be made to the SDLs when new initiatives or projects are identified that achieve better outcomes either for the environment or for Basin communities. The provisions would allow for SDLs to be adjusted without recourse to the Parliament. The mechanism allows for the development of proposals for projects based on environmental works and measures, river operations, rule changes and infrastructure developments that could use less environmental water to achieve similar environmental outcomes, or more environmental water to improve the environmental outcomes without increasing the socio economic impacts.

  1. Matter: CONSTRAINTS

Council recommends including a provision requiring the MDBA to develop a Constraints Management Strategy. This strategy is to be developed in consultation with Basin governments.

The initial constraints management strategy should be made within 12 months of the Basin Plan coming into effect.

Agreed and adopted

Changes:
A new provision has been added at s6.07.

The Authority has included a provision in the proposed Basin Plan requiring the MDBA to prepare a Constraints Management Strategy.

The strategy will identify what constraints exist in the Basin that affect or limit the delivery of environmental water to important sites. Constraints can include physical infrastructure – like low lying bridges or policy or administrative constraints.

  1. Matter: APPORTIONMENT

Council recommends that downstream SDL reduction be amended to express the downstream apportionment among jurisdictions.

Apportionment should be based on surface water diversions excluding urban water use or critical human water needs.

The Council has suggested different approaches for dealing with apportionment in the southern and northern Basin.

However, Council members have not reached an agreement on how apportionment ought to be given effect in the Basin Plan.

Agreed in principle but no changes

Should Council members agree to the apportionment before the Basin Plan is finalised, provisions have been drafted and could be included once an apportionment is suggested to the Authority by Minister Burke.

 

  1. Matter: 2015 Review

Council prefers not to have a formal 2015 SDL Review, subject to agreement on apportionment, constraints management and an SDL adjustment mechanism.

Agreed

Changes:
s6.06 has been revised to allow for future reviews of the Basin Plan.

Provisions were included to allow the Authority to conduct research and investigations into aspects of the work underpinning SDLs or other aspects of the Basin Plan.

This work may inform any future reviews of the Basin Plan that could address any ‘new knowledge’ issues not covered by the SDL adjustment mechanism.

 Briefing of NBAC members by MDBA officers

SDL adjustment mechanism

The SDL is a combination of science and judgment, BUT is more than a number – actual management arrangements are just as important. THE SDL adjustment mechanism is aimed primarily at the Southern Basin, and is not envisaged as being used much is the less regulated Northern Basin. The 2,750 GL could fall if rivers can be run more efficiently for the same environmental outcomes, or rise if removal of constraints allows more water to be used to increase environmental outcomes, provided that social and economic impacts do not worsen.

Comment: the legitimate measurement of social and economic impacts is a key issue.

Apportionment of the 143 GL downstream contribution

MDBA’s position is to let the market and investment figure it out. Some States want the numbers wired in, BUT this may give a false sense of security because arrangements could come undone by circumstances eg trading. If the Ministers can agree, MDBA is happy to put an apportionment mechanism in the Basin Plan.

Comment: this is a real can of worms. We understand that Qld is at least wary about any further downstream contributions. In NSW, NOW is being secretive about the state government’s intentions, although viability of communities is frequently mentioned politically. There is uncertainty about whether the 143 GL for the Barwon-Darling will eventuate, and if so, where it will come from and by what means. Can the Balonne, Gwydir and Macquarie (largely terminal systems) contribute? If not, will there be an unacceptable impact on the Namoi and Border Rivers? Is the socio-economic cost out of all proportion to the downstream environmental benefit? How can additional water from headwaters catchments be delivered effectively to target sites over a thousand kilometres away by a small river channel through a hot and arid landscape? What about the sovereign right of states to the productive use of a reasonable amount of their water resources in the places that are best suited for agricultural production, including some of the best farming country in the world?

Latest development: implications not yet know

Media Release: Returning The Murray-Darling Basin To Health

FRI 26 OCTOBER 2012

Prime Minister, Minister For The Environment

Adelaide

The Gillard Labor Government will today announce a landmark step in the plan to return the Murray-Darling Basin to health.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Water Minister Tony Burke will today visit the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray mouth region in South Australia, where they will announce that the Government will deliver an additional 450GL of water to achieve greater environmental outcomes to the Basin through water recovery projects that minimise the impact on communities.

The additional environmental water will benefit major wetlands across the Basin and the lower lakes in South Australia and help ensure the system never again goes into a period of drought lacking the resilience it needs to survive.

Recent modelling showed these environmental outcomes can be achieved with the return of 3200GL to the Murray. Today’s announcement, together with real time management, reflects the Government’s determination to achieve these environmental outcomes.

The modelling, released by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority earlier this month, showed that through a combination of relaxing capacity constraints and providing an additional 450GL of water above the 2750GL described in the plan, we can deliver better environmental outcomes for the basin.

The Gillard Government has today resolved to provide $1.77 billion over ten years from 2014 to relax key operating constraints and allow an additional 450GL of environmental water to be obtained through projects to ensure there is no social and economic downside for communities.

The Gillard Government is committed to reform for the Murray-Darling Basin that restores our rivers to health, supports strong regional communities and ensures sustainable food production.

That’s why we will invest primarily in on-farm efficiency works that generate water savings for the environment and other projects as agreed by states.

Implementation of the Plan will be an historic event for water reform in Australia and provide greater certainty for future water availability ensuring all those dependant on a sustainable river system can face the future with greater confidence.

This announcement represents a critical stage in the development of the Basin Plan which is on track to be finalised before the end of the year.

Of the extra funding, $200 million will be used to remove constraints such as low lying bridges and undersized dam outlets that currently limit both the volume of water that can flow through river systems and the environmental uses to which it can be put.

The extra funding will be secured through a special account and advance appropriation of future funds to ensure its availability through to 2024 by which time the additional water will have been recovered.

Legislation to establish the special account and advance appropriation is expected to be introduced into Parliament before the end of the year.

The Gillard Government is also working with the South Australian Government to provide funding to support environmental infrastructure and remedial works, and to assist South Australian irrigators to diversify and secure their economic future. Further details of these initiatives will be released as they are finalised.

The Gillard Government continues to work towards a genuine consensus with Basin states on the final elements of the Basin Plan and Minister Burke will fully consult with the Basin States before presenting the final plan to Parliament.

Funding for today’s announcement, and these further proposals, will be met from within existing resources and from funds set aside in the recent Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Northern Basin Advisory Committee

First meeting of the Northern Basin Advisory Committee

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Northern Basin Advisory Committee met for the first time today (27 & 28 September 2012) in Canberra.

The committee was formed in response to the need for a dedicated committee to represent the specific issues of the Northern Basin, which includes more than half of the Murray-Darling Basin. The committee will advise the MDBA on how best to implement the Basin Plan in the Northern Basin upstream of Menindee Lakes, which is different in many respects to the Southern Basin.

“By providing advice on issues such as proposals to save water or improve outcomes, this committee will provide the MDBA with an ongoing strategic perspective about the implementation of the Basin Plan in the north,” said MDBA Chair Craig Knowles.

The chair of the committee is Mr Mal Peters. Mr Peters is well known throughout the region as the Chair of the Regional Australia Institute and Regional Development Australia, Northern Inland. He is also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Regional Australia and a councillor on Inverell Shire Council.

“We’ll be working in support of local communities on the rolling out of a practical Basin Plan,” said Mr Peters.

The members of the committee were selected based on their knowledge and experience on issues relevant to the Basin Plan. This includes water management, environment and conservation, irrigation and dryland agriculture, social and economic analysis, Aboriginal interests, community leadership and local government.

The members include: Mal Peters, Inverell, NSW; Geoff Wise, Bourke, NSW; Ian Todd, St George Qld; Katrina Humphries, Moree, NSW; Ed Fessey, Brewarrina, NSW; Fred Hooper, Weilmoringle, NSW; Donna Stewart, St George, Qld; Michelle Ramsay, Bonshaw, NSW; Sarah Moles, Goomburra, Qld; Bruce McCollum, Goondiwindi, Qld; John Clements, Wee Waa, NSW.  The committee is pictured with Craig Knowles (Chair, MDBA) and Rhondda Dickson (CEO, MDBA).

 

OBJECTIVE

The objective of BREWN is to provide continuing strategic advice to all stakeholders on the policy settings for, and the management of water in, the Border Rivers catchment.

Stakeholders include commonwealth, state and local government, natural resource management organisations, agricultural and business industry associations, and the general community

The desired outcome is to optimise the environmental, economic and social benefits of water use in the catchment, with a focus on long term community viability and wellbeing.

Work Program

NBAC will advise MDBA on the development and implementation of an MDBA Northern Basin work program initially covering the next three years.  This work program could address:

a)       improved modelling or ecological analysis,

b)       ways of delivering environmental outcomes more efficiently,

c)       social or economic impacts.

It is vitally important that stakeholders provide Committee members with items you would like to see included in the work program. As it is developed, the work program will be discussed with you.

Water Plans

The Qld Water Resource Plan and Resource Operations Plan and the NSW Water Sharing Plan for the Border Rivers will be the instruments through which the Border Rivers SDL will be met. It is anticipated that community consultation similar to that for the existing plans will take place.

Works and measures

A recent DNRM project developed a prospectus of potential environmental works and measures (EW&M) with priority opportunities identified that would propose on ground works or other measures that:

  • Overcome constraints to achieving environmental outcomes at assets of high conservation value, and/or
  • Reduce the impact of the transition to new Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) that will be set under the Basin Plan.

The project is designed to lessen the burden of mandatory Sustainable Diversion Limits in priority locations where diversion limit reductions are proposed under the Murray- Darling Basin Plan. It recommends feasibility assessment of a piping proposal for the Callandoon and Yambocully Water Supply Schemes, and pre-feasibility investigations of fishways on structures (including the possible removal of some structures) in the Border Rivers catchment, in conjunction with the strategic acquisition and management of regulated water entitlements, and multi-level offtakes from Glenlyon Dam.

Similar assessments have taken place for the NSW Border Rivers.

System

In addition to the system-based projects listed above, our challenge is to come up with additional projects that would produce the same environmental outcomes with less water. The proposed Plan states that summer freshes are important in the Macintyre River for triggering fish movement and maintaining fish habitats. At different stages of their life cycle, native fish species will make use of various habitat components. Flow events within the river channel provide access to habitat features such as benches and large woody material. In addition, these events enable the transport of nutrients and sediment to downstream environments. The additional environmental water will significantly increase the average volume of freshes, which is expected to inundate key in-channel habitats, increase the number and success of fish spawning events and improve nutrient cycling.

 The aim in the proposed Plan is:

  • to increase the volume and frequency of summer low and medium flows at Mungindi (15 GL total, 7 GL recovered so far, 8GL remaining)
  • to increase the volume and frequency of summer low and medium flows in the Barwon-Darling (share of 143 GL from Barwon-Darling tributaries)

Comment: since summer is irrigation season, low and median flows are already in the system from dam releases.

 The proposed Commonwealth Environmental Water (CEW) focus for its held environmental water is:

 Very dry: Contribute to or provide very low flow

Dry: Contribute to or provide base flow

Wet, median and dry: Contribute to or provide in-channel fresh

Wet and median: Contribute to low level ctf flow structure ie prolong flow event

Very wet and wet: Contribute to higher ctf flow structure ie prolong flow event

 

The DNRM project outlined above identified four categories of environmental works and measures.

 

Category 1 – works and measures that generate water savings or bring additional water into the Basin, with the potential to allow SDLs to be increased.

Suggested ‘projects that could be considered’

  • Mid-stream storage, filled as the opportunity arises, with releases to contribute to target flows (transmission losses are minimised if flows are released when the system is wet, or during winter when it is cooler)
  • Use of selected existing storages as above
  • Arrangements with water users to take and store some water in advance, so that when flow events occur they already have some of their entitlement, and this volume can remain in the river as e-water
  • Diversion of selected upper tributaries of the Clarence River, combined with Border Rivers transitional storages
  • Construction of a dam at Mingoola (original site for Glenlyon) or Mole River to allow targeted releases of e-water to transitional storages
  • Cloud seeding
  • Weed control and native groundcover rehabilitation in state forests to enhance runoff

Comment: these initiates would need to be accompanied by storage efficiency measures so that losses from on farm storages were as close as possible to losses from headwaters dams

 Category 2 – works and measures that allow environmental outcomes to be achieved at a site or across a range of sites with less water than would otherwise be required to be recovered, thereby creating potential for SDLs to be increased

Suggested ‘projects that could be considered’

  • Raising and management of Mungindi Weir so that releases can be made to create artificial target flows at the required times (pull rather than push for upstream, contribution to downstream)
  • During times of no or minimal flow, pumping of water into off-stream storage to create an artificial flow from upstream, followed quickly by release to create an artificial downstream flow

Category 3 – works and measures that enhance environmental outcomes through more environmentally effective or efficient river operations, using the same amount of environmental water

Suggested ‘projects that could be considered’

  • Pulsing of dam releases to enhance target flows
  • Enhance real time measurement systems and associated assessment to allow fine tuning of flows to minimise losses, with savings credited to the SDL
  • Development of a system of piggy-backing e-water on dam releases and natural flows to minimise e-water transmission losses

Category 4 – works and measures that overcome constraints on the delivery of environmental flows or increase flexibility in water management across the Basin

 Suggested ‘projects that could be considered’

  • Identification and removal of “chokes” in the system
  • Investigation and implementation of optimum flow heights and rates to minimise transmission losses

On farm

Qld’s “Healthy Headwaters” program and NSW’s “Sustaining the Basin” program provide up to 80% government funding for on farm water use efficiency projects from which the saved water is shared 50:50 between the farm owner and CEW. Raising and dividing on farm storages has the potential to save large volumes of water, increase production and contribute to environmental water, but it is up to individual farmers to decide whether to participate. The banks/financiers have a role to play in this regard.

Operations

It is possible that river operations (in particular, the timing, duration and volume of dam releases) can be fine tuned to reduce transmission losses and therefore provide the same end-of-system flows with less water. This is an area worthy of investigation.

Non flow-related offsets

Desired environmental outcomes can sometimes be met by non flow-related measures. For example, fish passage and subsequent spawning can be improved by removal of barriers or installation of effective fish ladders, turbidity can be reduced and fish breeding enhanced by installing off-river stock watering and improving riparian vegetation, and removal of invasive species such as European carp lessens competition for native fish.

A major issue is the development and acceptance of volumetric offsets to SDLs as a result of non flow-related works. MDBA is not thinking in this particular way at the moment, because the Water Act is based on flows and politicians are fixated with this. A challenge will be to advocate offsets as a sensible, practical means of achieving specified environmental outcomes.

Existing Modelling

In the Northern Basin MDBA has taken existing State-based IQQMs and modified them for Basin Plan purposes. Unlike the State models which were subjected to rigorous calibration and verification processes involving the community, MDBA’s work has been done in house and the assumptions involved have not been subjected to public scrutiny. Given the central place of modelling in specifying flow regimes to meet SDLs, it is essential that proper scrutiny takes place.

New model runs

Current modelling is described in:

It is highly likely that new model runs will be required as part of Plan implementation. These need to be identified and built into the Northern Basin work program.

Existing ecological analysis

The MDBA has undertaken detailed assessments of environmental water requirements for a range of sites across the Basin.

A number of reports provide details about the eco-hydrological assessment of environmental water requirements, including the Barmah-Millewa Forest report which was previously linked to this page.

The Authority also previously commissioned peer-reviewed science over the past 18 months in developing the Basin Plan.

The scientific reports underpinning the plan are available from the Basin Plan Knowledge and Information Directory as they become available.

Environmental outcomes

The outcomes for the Border Rivers are in channel at Mungindi, and relate primarily to fish breeding and recruitment, and sediment transport. It should be noted that within catchment recovery is earmarked to achieve these outcomes without taking downstream contributions into account. However, the downstream water must also pass Mungindi.

The key documents relating to environmental outcomes are:

Flow-related measures

See  Works and measures and System above

Non flow-related measures

See Non flow-related offsets above

Volumetric offsets

How do you assign a ML value to riparian works or fish ladders? It is obvious that ecological outcomes such as fish breeding and sediment transport are achieved by having less turbid water and more freedom of movement for fish. If these measures are substituted for flow enhancement, how are they to be valued and how is this to be built into the SDL adjustment mechanism? This issue will require serious thought and strong advice to MDBA.

Social and economic impacts

There is a strong perception within irrigation communities that socio-economic impact assessments to date have been of very limited validity and use. This largely relates to matters of scale (eg state vs regional vs local) and of how inputs and outputs are selected and analysed. For instance, some studies assume that employees displaced from irrigation jobs automatically obtain alternative jobs in the mining industry in other locations. Many other assumptions such as this can be identified and challenged.

There are three key questions:

  1. If productive water is removed from an irrigation-dependent community, will its members be worse off in terms of employment, income, services, facilities, amenities, social and cultural identity and well-being?
  2. Is it in the national interest to de-water productive agricultural land for ecological outcomes before the science is sound enough to give confidence that this will lead to long term sustainability?
  3.  Is the political interpretation of equity (everyone must suffer equally) compatible with the scientific requirements of a sustainable working Basin?

It is informative to keep these questions in mind when reading the socio-economic assessment on which the proposed Plan is based:

Development of proposals

One of the main roles for BREWN will be to identify projects that allow the Basin plan to achieve its objectives with less environmental water or least impact on productive water, and advocate these projects to MDBA and other relevant agencies.

A. Steps in project identification could be:

  1. What is our need?

eg we need to identify projects that ……………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Develop a list of possible projects without any constraints

A project that I think will ……(state our need)…………………… is …………………………………………………

 

  1. Conduct initial project assessment using all available resources

 

  1. Prioritise the list of projects on the basis of assessments

 

  1. Write proposals for the first (agree to a number) projects

 

  1. Submit the proposals to the appropriate agencies

B. Participants in the project development process:

  • Technical working group?
  • Technical advisory panel?
  • Advocacy team?
  • Other?

C. Resources for project development

  • Allocation of agency personnel?
  • Voluntary contributions?
  • Application(s) for funding?
  • Other?

Management and operational rules

The current rules can be accessed here.

The people best equipped to suggest beneficial changes to management and operational rules are the river managers. A dedicated session on this topic is proposed for the future when Plan requirements have been firmly established.

The next meeting of BREWN will be held at 10.00 am on Tuesday 6th May at Gateway to Training, 15-21 Russell Street, Goondiwindi.

The meeting follows an MDBA information session at GTT on 29th April covering the environmental science, socio-economics and other aspects of the Basin Plan. It is also after a Northern Basin Advisory Committee meeting at GTT on 30th April and 1st May. We will therefore have the most up-to-date information to discuss. A summary and some discussion about the environmental science follows.

BREWN has been invited by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO) to be involved in environmental water planning in the Border Rivers for the 2014-15 water year. We have responded in the affirmative.

The recent report by MDBA on environmental water in 2013-14 said that environmental watering is most effective when managed in response to natural cues such as rainfall and flows in streams and rivers. When natural cues occur, ecosystem functions such as nutrient exchange and bird and fish breeding are more likely to be triggered, and opportunities presented to provide critical ecological support with environmental water.

In summary, the MDBA says that its objective is to use environmental water in conjunction with consumptive water to improve in-stream flow variability and out-of-stream connectivity between rivers, floodplains and wetlands for the purpose of:
• Maintaining habitat and refuges for native fish
• Triggering fish breeding and migration
• Supporting breeding events and improving breeding habitat for colonial waterbirds
• Supporting native aquatic plants and animals

My personal response (subject to close scrutiny, of course) is that, while the HOW of environmental watering is clearly stated, if somewhat generic, the WHY has not been enunciated. This is consistent with my conviction that the story is being presented from the middle onwards rather than from the beginning. This reinforces the general perception that the science for the Northern Basin is inadequate. In the broadest sense, it does not establish convincingly the relationship between:
• In-stream flow variability and outcomes for fish, birds and vegetation
• Out-of-stream environmental water and breeding triggers and habitat (wetlands) for waterbirds
• Out-of-stream environmental water and floodplain benefits, particularly vegetation and nutrient recycling

The Northern Basin science review commissioned by MDBA in consultation with the Northern Basin Advisory Committee supports the inadequacy of the science, albeit with an unwritten implication that better science would indicate that more water is required for the environment. To be fair, this is from a purely scientific viewpoint, with no balancing of equally important socio-economic considerations.

Some of the inadequacies identified by the science review of the Lower Balonne and Barwon-Darling include:
• Recognition that restoring parts of the flow regime may not result in the complete protection or restoration of diversity, function and resilience and that non flow-related factors may need to be considered (eg landuse, invasive species such as carp, cold water pollution)
• Limited understanding of the flows required for the maintenance of physical habitat
• The relevance of general ecological theory on floodplain rivers, as used by MDBA in the absence of specific information, is poorly understood
• The knowledge available to the MDBA during the ESLT process to develop flow indicators for aquatic biota was inferred from ecological concepts derived from general ecological studies of floodplain rivers, but much of this information tends to be broad, with little species specific information making it difficult to use to generate specific ecological targets for each environmental asset
• There is significant doubt about the relevance of transferring ecological responses of fauna among rivers geographically located close by, and hence a greater doubt if comparing ecological response in systems that are significantly separated geographically
• Because timing of flows either seasonally or within recent flow history cannot feasibly be managed in unregulated systems, seasonality is largely assumed to be accounted for by the unconstrained nature of flow events in the unregulated systems of the northern Basin review regions
• Inundation model outputs to date have not been of sufficient reliability and/or resolution to allow for characterisation of the water regimes of floodplain wetland systems
• There is a lack of quantitative data on aquatic fauna in general
• There is very little additional information about ecohydrological relationships and associated flow attributes of the key ecological components of relevance to the development of flow indicators, and no known studies of ecohydrological response by aquatic fauna other than fish
• There is limited knowledge concerning the relationships of significant associated factors such as weather, groundwater and land use, with flow and their quantitative effects on ecological responses to flow
• Baseline knowledge on processes maintaining physical landscape structures is lacking: in particular, data is needed on erosion rates in both natural and altered areas to model soil entrainment, movement and deposition
• There are major knowledge gaps related to baseline ecological data
• There is poor understanding of the links between flow and physical form in the environmental assets and, more specifically, the impacts of changes in flow on habitat availability and physical form.
• Responses of biota to flow in the three environmental assets are a significant knowledge gap for plant and animal species as well as communities at different spatial and temporal scales: for example, at the species scale, there may be good knowledge on the likely response of individual species to a single flow event, but less is known about the longer term water requirements of these species within the three environmental assets, and the entire northern Basin
• Very little information exists concerning interactions between key plant species, their importance in structuring vegetation communities and vegscapes, and the effects of these on flow regimes over broad spatial and temporal scales.
• While broad scale geomorphological processes within the northern Basin are relatively well understood, there is a paucity of information on small-scale processes and the relationship between altered land-use and its impact on physical habitat
• Similarly, while information concerning the extent and nature of most significant covariates identified as important is widely available (eg from national datasets or the satellite record), understanding of their relationships with flow and ecological responses to flow in the review regions is mostly lacking
• Knowledge concerning the influence of weather, grazing and groundwater is desirable to understand riparian and floodplain vegetation responses to flow as are the effects of vegetation fragmentation due to land use change and in-stream barriers
• With respect to aquatic communities, knowledge of the influence of land use disturbances and in-stream barriers on the aquatic species, including exotic species (eg carp) is desirable to understand flow responses
• For waterbirds, knowledge of habitat requirements for breeding and feeding beyond flow conditions, eg vegetation structure, is a major knowledge gap.
On the basis of these knowledge gaps the science team is proposing a range of projects to be completed by the end of 2015. They include:
• Aquatic ecosystem classification across the northern Basin
• Mapping and modelling patterns of hydrological connection and inundation on the Lower Balonne floodplain and Barwon-Darling River systems
• Modelling current changes in hydrological setting compared with past conditions
• Modelling future projected changes in hydrological setting associated with climate change
• Baseline inventory of environmental assets
• Vegetation ecohydrology: responses of vegetation communities and key plant species to flows in the northern Basin, relationships between the distribution and condition of vegetation communities and water regimes
• Ecohydrological relationships of aquatic fauna within the two review regions
• Response of waterbirds to hydrological components.
• Impacts of carp on aquatic fauna in the northern Basin
• Impacts of land-use on floodplain vegetation condition and flood response

It is my view, once again a personal one, that the suggested projects are probably unachievable by the end of 2015 and, even if completed by then, would be inconclusive as have been most such projects to date. Results in which we can have confidence require continuous observation and sampling over time periods that correspond with natural cycles. Modelling is a poor substitute for actual fieldwork. Professor John Spoehr says that “it’s important to exercise caution in the use of modelling statistics”, a sentiment echoed by many other commentators. Professor Spoehr is referring to economic modelling, which has fewer and less complex variables than ecological modelling. I cannot see how these projects could help us to decide on the environmental water needs of the Barwon-Darling in a triple bottom line context for the whole of the Northern Basin.

We are still faced with finding the remainder of the shared contribution of 143,000 ML from the tributaries to the Barwon-Darling. I believe that this is much more likely to be a political rather than a scientific decision, especially because any scientific studies, including socio-economic impact assessments, completed by end 2015 have very little chance of casting much light on the matters under consideration.

The key challenge for us is to adopt a consistent position and to be strong advocates for it. This will be the main focus of the meeting on 6th May.

Contacts for Bruce McCollum:

borderrivers@gmail.com,   0407 623 937, 07 4671 3237.

FRI 26 OCTOBER 2012

Prime Minister, Minister For The Environment

Adelaide

The Gillard Labor Government will today announce a landmark step in the plan to return the Murray-Darling Basin to health.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Water Minister Tony Burke will today visit the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray mouth region in South Australia, where they will announce that the Government will deliver an additional 450GL of water to achieve greater environmental outcomes to the Basin through water recovery projects that minimise the impact on communities.

The additional environmental water will benefit major wetlands across the Basin and the lower lakes in South Australia and help ensure the system never again goes into a period of drought lacking the resilience it needs to survive.

Recent modelling showed these environmental outcomes can be achieved with the return of 3200GL to the Murray. Today’s announcement, together with real time management, reflects the Government’s determination to achieve these environmental outcomes.

The modelling, released by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority earlier this month, showed that through a combination of relaxing capacity constraints and providing an additional 450GL of water above the 2750GL described in the plan, we can deliver better environmental outcomes for the basin.

The Gillard Government has today resolved to provide $1.77 billion over ten years from 2014 to relax key operating constraints and allow an additional 450GL of environmental water to be obtained through projects to ensure there is no social and economic downside for communities.

The Gillard Government is committed to reform for the Murray-Darling Basin that restores our rivers to health, supports strong regional communities and ensures sustainable food production.

That’s why we will invest primarily in on-farm efficiency works that generate water savings for the environment and other projects as agreed by states.

Implementation of the Plan will be an historic event for water reform in Australia and provide greater certainty for future water availability ensuring all those dependant on a sustainable river system can face the future with greater confidence.

This announcement represents a critical stage in the development of the Basin Plan which is on track to be finalised before the end of the year.

Of the extra funding, $200 million will be used to remove constraints such as low lying bridges and undersized dam outlets that currently limit both the volume of water that can flow through river systems and the environmental uses to which it can be put.

The extra funding will be secured through a special account and advance appropriation of future funds to ensure its availability through to 2024 by which time the additional water will have been recovered.

Legislation to establish the special account and advance appropriation is expected to be introduced into Parliament before the end of the year.

The Gillard Government is also working with the South Australian Government to provide funding to support environmental infrastructure and remedial works, and to assist South Australian irrigators to diversify and secure their economic future. Further details of these initiatives will be released as they are finalised.

The Gillard Government continues to work towards a genuine consensus with Basin states on the final elements of the Basin Plan and Minister Burke will fully consult with the Basin States before presenting the final plan to Parliament.

Funding for today’s announcement, and these further proposals, will be met from within existing resources and from funds set aside in the recent Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Hydrologic modelling of the relaxation of operational constraints in the southern connected system: Methods and results

In June 2012 the Ministerial Council asked the MDBA to model a 3200 GL/y environmental water recovery scenario assuming that several river operating constraints were removed or “relaxed”. The Authority had previously completed modelling of three different amounts of water recovered for the environment (2400, 2800 and 3200GL/y). During this work it became clear that river operating constraints impact on achieving certain environmental outcomes, particularly for mid and high floodplain environments in the southern Basin.

The MDBA has completed two ‘relaxed constraints’ scenarios where eight key river operating constraints relaxed in the southern connected system with water recovery of 2800 and 3200 GL/y. The constraints relaxed modelling confirms the MDBA’s previous assessment that increasing the SDL to 3200GL/y without changing some of the restrictions on environmental watering will achieve few additional benefits. The results showed that relaxing constraints with 2800GL/y delivers modest benefits including higher peaks and longer durations for environmentally important flow events. This means larger areas of floodplain would receive water for a longer period. It would also mean more high flow days per year, refreshed floodplain ground water systems and increased flushing of salt from the system.

The modelling found that the combination of relaxing constraints and an additional 400GL could achieve 17 out of 18 targets for the River Murray compared to 13 under current constraints. The findings also show that higher flow peaks of a longer duration could be achieved in the southern basin and more frequent inundation of the mid to high level floodplain below the Murray–Darling junction would occur (an additional 30,000ha). Furthermore, four of the previously unmet high flow targets for sites such as Gunbower-Perricoota-Koondrook forest and Riverland-Chowilla floodplain would be met and there would be improved health of red gum and black box woodlands.

The feasibility of relaxing constraints will be investigated through the development of a constraints management strategy under the Basin Plan. Many of these constraints are complex to address and will require state agreement and high levels of collaboration. Furthermore, the potential social and economic impacts of additional water recovery mean that there are important considerations to be addressed before the anticipated benefits of the modelled results can be delivered in the Murray–Darling Basin.

The full report can be accessed at http://download.mdba.gov.au/altered-PBP/Hydrologic-modelling-relaxed-constraints-October-2012.pdf

BREWN was formed on 5th December 2011 in response to MDBA Chair Craig Knowles’ encouragement to local communities to establish a practical capacity for local input into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The objective of the Border Rivers Environmental Water Network (BREWN) is to provide continuing strategic advice to all stakeholders on the policy settings for, and the management of water in, the Border Rivers catchment.

Stakeholders include commonwealth, state and local government, natural resource management organisations, agricultural and business industry associations, and the general community (see more details in post below).

The desired outcome is to optimise the environmental, economic and social benefits of water use in the catchment, with a focus on long term community viability and wellbeing. BREWN will do this by addressing the following tasks.

TASKS

T1. From a local perspective, consider the impacts of and recommend changes to commonwealth and state government water policy, legislation and plans.

T2. Participate in the development of the Border Rivers Environmental Watering Plan to ensure the most economical and effective use of planned and held environmental water.

T3. Provide a local assessment of the best available science relating to riverine environmental assets and ecological processes, and the watering regimes required to maintain them to agreed standards.

T4. Investigate and make recommendations with regard to environmental works and measures that can achieve the same environmental objectives with less water.

T5. Provide advice to governments and irrigators on strategies for maximising the uptake of co-investment in on farm water use efficiency as a preferred option for environmental water recovery.

T6. Investigate the economic and social impacts of government purchases of water from willing sellers, advise stakeholders, and advocate preferred methods of water recovery.

T7. Monitor the economic and social impacts of environmental water recovery at the catchment, sub-catchment and local level, and advocate measures to minimise negative impacts.

T8. Communicate effectively with people in the Border Rivers catchment to inform them about water-related issues, advise how they can become involved, and seek feedback from them.

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