We are frequently reminded that water policy is complex.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan certainly reflects this complexity through its many moving parts, including the opportunity to recover water for the environment by being even more efficient in our use of water.
This was agreed by governments to minimise the impact of water recovery on communities.
The rollout of irrigation upgrades and other efficiency measures has the potential to recover up to 450Gl of water for the environment.
This represents the other side of the southern basin adjustment mechanism that could see 605Gl returned to farmers through smarter management of environmental water.
The recovery of up to 450Gl has always been a requirement of the basin plan, as long as it can be achieved with a neutral or positive socio-economic impact.
Last year, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council commissioned Ernst & Young to review how programs to deliver this 450Gl might be best designed, implemented and resourced.
The resulting EY report says further recovery is possible, but emphasises the need for careful analysis first.
They also made the point that communities and industries are non-negotiable partners in designing any measures.
The Murray-Darling Basin Association welcomes any evidence-based pathway that will support implementation of the basin plan.
It’s now up to governments to consider the findings of the EY review and commit to the next steps that could see more water available for the environment through efficiency upgrades.
We have heard from several communities that are very concerned about the prospect of more water being removed from production, regardless of efficiencies.
We are currently doing more work to understand how much the basin plan has influenced socio-economic change and we hope to finalise this work by April of this year. However, we already know that investment in more efficient infrastructure leads to better social and economic outcomes for communities than recovering water through purchase.
Without efficiencies and other measures to enable an adjustment to the basin plan’s recovery requirement, it is hard to see how we can deliver the basin plan on time.
With the water recovery task almost complete, and new limits on water take becoming legally binding from 2019, it is more important than ever that we continue to work together to realise the full long-term benefits of the plan for basin communities and their environment.