A Federal cross-party parliamentary report released Friday (July 6) provides some hope that irrigators might get answers to crucial questions regarding the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan.
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia, at the request of Federal Water Minister Tony Burke, has been investigating three issues: progress in water recovered for environmental purposes, the potential role of new environmental works and measures in offsetting reductions in Sustainable Diversion Limits under the draft Basin Plan, and groundwater Sustainable Diversion Limits.
Chaired by Independent Federal MP Tony Windsor, the committee had one month in which to consider submissions and conduct hearings.
Member for Mildura Peter Crisp has welcomed the report as a “sensible” document which, if adopted, will compel the Murray Darling Basin Authority to provide more information to irrigators and river communities.
“After the release in late May of the revised draft Basin Plan, I commented that the MDBA remained silent on which catchments would be contributing to the downstream environmental water needs of the River Murray.
“All that’s been said is that 971 gigalitres annually were needed to meet the shared responsibility of downstream environmental water needs, which would be recovered from catchments in the southern Basin. (In total, the draft Basin Plan calls for 2,750 gigalitres p.a.to be diverted for environmental purposes).
“This left irrigators in the dark on the volume of water they ultimately would receive to keep permanent plantings alive.
“The House of Representatives committee obviously agreed, saying that the Basin Plan failed to explain a water recovery strategy, adding to the ‘ongoing concern and uncertainty in communities’.
“Two of the committee’s four recommendations call on the Federal Government to provide more information well in advance of the Basin Plan being introduced to Parliament, which is scheduled to occur near the end of this year.
“Specifically, the committee wants the MDBA to release its water recovery strategy, and plans for trading of environmental water before the Basin Plan is presented to Parliament.”
Mr Crisp says the committees other two recommendations should also be supported by the Federal Government, these being that Sustainable Diversion Limits be adjusted automatically in response to efficiencies gained by environmental works and measures, and that the government consider urgently further initiatives to improve river and irrigation management and monitoring.