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
- 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
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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
See Works and measures and System above
Non flow-related measures
See Non flow-related offsets above
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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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:
- What is our need?
eg we need to identify projects that ……………………………………………………………………………………
- Develop a list of possible projects without any constraints
A project that I think will ……(state our need)…………………… is …………………………………………………
- Conduct initial project assessment using all available resources
- Prioritise the list of projects on the basis of assessments
- Write proposals for the first (agree to a number) projects
- Submit the proposals to the appropriate agencies
B. Participants in the project development process:
- Technical working group?
- Technical advisory panel?
- Advocacy team?
C. Resources for project development
- Allocation of agency personnel?
- Voluntary contributions?
- Application(s) for funding?
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.