MDBC achievements and milestones 2002-2007
The Murray-Darling Basin Commission has been managing the natural resources of this vast area of Australia since 1988. However, the past five years has been a time of unprecedented growth and innovation in the organisation’s programs and activities.
During this time there have been some major milestones and achievements for the environment and for the 2.7 million people who live in the Basin. Following are some of these milestones. The most important achievement over the past five years arguably has been to ensure water supplies down the river system during the period of lowest inflows in 113 years. Since the seriousness of this drought became apparent in about 2003, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission has used all the resources at its disposal to communicate the worsening news to a huge range of people within and outside the Basin. Over the past five years, all valleys where the Cap is established, in the Murray-Darling Basin, except for the Barwon Darling/ Lower Darling, have complied with the Cap, thus limiting the amount of water extracted from the system. In fact, most valleys have diverted much less water than they were entitled to divert. Communities and Governments have worked together to make significant progress in managing salinity levels in the Basin through the Salinity Management Strategy. Salt interception schemes cumulatively keep 430,000 tonnes of salt out of the Murray each year. A successful MDBC pilot project from 1998 to 2003 proved the positive economic and environmental benefits of expanding interstate water trading between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The Productivity Commission has said the move more than halves the impact of reductions in water on the gross regional product of the southern Murray-Darling Basin. Things are looking up for the native fish of the Murray-Darling Basin with population numbers up, innovative new ‘fishways’ being built and ‘resnagging’ helping to re-recreate natural habitats for the fish. Even though it’s only two-thirds of the way through the first ever Basin-wide assessment of fish, macroinvertebrates and hydrology, the Sustainable Rivers Audit already has confirmed a new population of a nationally threatened species (Barred galaxias) and the presence of a new exotic species (Crucian Carp) in the Basin. Important infrastructure and water recovery mechanisms have been achieved to take the program on its way to returning the target of 500GL of water by 30 June 2009 (with most of the water becoming available in the final two years.. June 2005 to February 2006 was the most active period of environmental management in the history of River Murray since its regulation resulting in significant benefits. An historic Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations in March 2006 and the Cultural Landscape Plan of Management developed with the Barkindji Nation at Lake Victoria are just two major milestones of the MDBC’s consultation process with Indigenous people. The MDBC’s major achievements have all been underpinned by first class science and knowledge, especially through the MDBC’s Strategic Investigations and Education Program – a work program spanning 15 years from 1990-2005)
Managing the Murray during record droughtThe most important achievement over the past five years arguably has been to ensure water supplies down the river system during the worst drought in 113 years.
Carried out by the River Murray Water (RMW) division, this has included careful management of dams and weirs along the length of the river, varying water levels where and when necessary.
Other RMW achievements have included:
Works to improve operations , including:
- upgrading the navigable pass at Locks and Weirs 7 to 10;
- improving safe operations at Tauwitchere and Ewe Island Barrages;
- completion of automation of 36 of the radial gates for remote opera on site;
- installation of five vertical axis spindle gates at Mundoo Barrage to enable a safer remote control operation of the barrages.
Sand pumping at Murray Mouth to maintain opening and connection from the Coorong to the sea under prevailing drought conditions
renegotiating the operating consent for Lake Victoria with NSW.
managing a salt slug out of the Darling early 2004
Hume to Yarrawonga waterway management planning
expanding water trading (permanent trade)
environmental management through river operations via varying water levels and making environmental water releases (from environmental accounts etc)
completing an $80 million major physical upgrade of the Hume dam in 2004 funded by the Australian, NSW, Victorian and South Australian governments.
Communicating the worsening droughtSince the seriousness of this drought became apparent in about 2003, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission has used all the resources at its disposal to communicate the worsening news to a huge range of people within and outside the Basin.
Some of the communication has included:
- 156 issues of the very popular River Murray Weekly Report detailing the state of the system’s storages, water availability action, rainfall and other climatic information distributed by email, fax and website;
- 6 comprehensive “Drought Update” papers. The Updates have been produced more frequently as the duration and intensity of the drought became more apparent;
- 3 River Murray Water Operational Updates;
- 33 MDBC E-letter news items reporting the growing seriousness, effects of and other aspects of the drought in the Basin, with many being republished by media oganisations;
- 2 editions of the MDBC “Water Resources Factsheet”
- countless hours in media interviews by MDBC senior managers to ensure accurate reporting of the seriousness and deteriorating inflow situation; and
- the widely distributed MDB Ministerial Council meetings communiqués have increasingly reflected the worsening drought information, especially the last three meetings.
Cap reduces amount of water extracted from Basin’s river systems The Cap is a limit on the volume of water which can be diverted from the Basin’s rivers for human uses. It dates back to 1996 and is now a statutory requirement under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement. The Cap is independently audited every year. While the Cap restrains increase in water diversions, it does not constrain new developments provided the water for them is obtained by using water more efficiently or by purchasing water from existing developments.
Over the past five years, all valleys where the Cap has been established in the Murray-Darling Basin, except for the Barwon Darling/Lower Darling, have complied with the Cap, thus limiting the amount of water extracted from the system. In fact, most valleys have diverted much less water than they were entitled to divert.
Bringing salinity under some controlCommunities and Governments have worked together to make significant progress in managing salinity levels in the Basin through the Salinity Management Strategy. The following milestones so far have been achieved:
Keeping salt out of the Murray - In 2006 the following three new salt interception schemes were commissioned, which cumulatively keep 79,000 tonnes of salt out of the Murray each year:
- salt levels at Morgan (the ‘litmus’ salt test area) kept at less than 800 EC – the World Health Organisation standard for drinking water - for the last 10 years.
- established stable and accountable frameworks that, over time, will generate confidence in how we are tracking our joint efforts to manage salinity;
- Annual publishing of two reports which evaluate progress - the Independent Audit Group for Salinity; and the Basin Salinity Management Strategy (BSMS) Annual Implementation Report.
- established end of valley salinity targets by partner governments;
- developed a suite of models to evaluate stream salinity;
- developed approaches to evaluate the salinity impacts of irrigation; and established baseline conditions for salinity assessment.
They have joined existing salt interception works which have together kept 430,000 tonnes of salt out of the River Murray each year.
- Buronga SIS (Southwestern NSW, October 2006) rehabilitation and augmentation;
- Bookpurnong Scheme (SA, September 2006); and
- The Pyramid Creek Salt Interception Scheme (Northern Victoria, April 2006).
Water trade halves cost of droughtA successful MDBC pilot project from 1998 to 2003 proved the positive economic and environmental benefits of expanding interstate water trading between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
The Productivity Commission has said the move more than halves the impact of reductions in water on the gross regional product of the southern Murray-Darling Basin.
During the pilot, water users in the South Australia River Murray and the Mallee regions of Victoria and New South Wales were able to buy and sell water across state boundaries.
The Pilot Project demonstrated that irrigators wanted the ability to trade water interstate and led to the 2006 Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council endorsement which enabled the geographic expansion of interstate water trade within the jurisdictions of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
Achievement of this milestone was a major commitment of the Council of Australian Governments to the National Water Initiative Intergovernmental Agreement on water reform within Australia.
Boosting populations and health of native fish Things are looking up for the native fish of the Murray-Darling Basin. According to the second annual implementation report of the MDBC’s Native Fish Strategy released late in 2006 milestones have included;
- Monitors have reported apparent an increase in the populations of native fish at several points along the Murray River;
- construction of five innovative “fishways” on the Murray River and at the Barrages and several more under construction or in planning;
- good response from threatened species (such as Trout Cod) to resnagging;
- establishment of “demonstration reaches” at various locations across the Basin to showcase to the community the benefits of a number of actions, such as resnagging, riparian rehabilitation, fishways and carp management, in defined area;
- progress with the development of new carp control techniques, including the ‘carp separation cage’; and
- widespread community support for Native Fish Strategy as measured by media enquiries, website hits, CSTF communication activities, etc
Restoring the health of the Murray RiverIn 2002 the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council established The Living Murray program in response to signs that the Murray River is suffering.
The program’s “First Step” phase is focusing on protecting and improving the environment at six sites along the River, known as “icon sites”.
Ultimately, the Living Murray program aims to return an average of 500GL of water by 30 June 2009, with most of the water becoming available in the final two years.
However, before water is recovered, extensive project development needs to occur, much of which is now taking place.
Achievements so far in developing projects which will recover the water have been:
- Environmental Works and Measures Program
- Completion of construction works for Stage 1 of the Gunbower Environmental Flow Project, including construction of 4 regulators;
- Completion of resnagging at the first of 3 priority sites in the Hume to Yarrawonga reach;
- Completion of 24 remotely controlled gates on the barrages to provide greater operational flexibility and control of water movement and fish passage between the Lower Lakes and Coorong estuary;
- Construction of the Packer’s Crossing regulator on the Great Darling Anabranch to allow delivery of environmental flow to the Anabranch; and
- Hume to Sea Fish Passage: construction of new fishways at Lock 9 and 10 and the vertical slot fishway at Goolwa Barrage
- Water Recovery Program
- Four water packages yielding 240 GL have been listed on the Eligible Measures Register as investment ready.
- Investment is occurring for the largest packages in each of Victoria and NSW. South Australia has made 13 GL of entitlement available for management to achieve ecological outcomes at the icon sites.
- NSW has purchased water access entitlements from landholders around the Poon Boon Lakes, which will yield an average of approximately 13 GL/year. Seven feasibility assessments of water recovery measures funded by the Commission are completed, and some of these reports are now available from the MDBC website
- Darling Anabranch pipeline completed
- Community Consultation
From 2000-2004, the MDBC and a Community Reference Panel held 28 meetings to provide community input into the development and implementation of The Living Murray. This group evolved to become The Living Murray Community Reference Group in 2005, which has met seven times to February 2007.
Sustainable Rivers Audit discovers new exotic fish species
The Sustainable Rivers Audit is a program designed to measure the health of the Basin’s rivers. The Audit aims to:
- determine the ecological condition and health of river valleys in the Murray-Darling Basin ;
- give us a better insight into the variability of river health indicators across the Basin and over time;
- eventually help us detect trends in river health over time; and
- trigger changes to natural resource management by providing a more comprehensive picture of river health than is currently available.
Even though it’s only two-thirds of the way through, the first ever Basin-wide assessment of fish, macroinvertebrates and hydrology, the Sustainable Rivers Audit already has confirmed a new population of a nationally threatened species (Barred galaxias) and the presence of a new exotic species (Crucian Carp) in the Basin.
The project – due to be completed by the end of 2007 - will produce the first Basin-wide river health assessment based on scientific research principles. Consistent site selection and sampling techniques are being used to sample all river valleys. Already the SRA sampling has identified a new population of the nationally threatened Barred galaxias (Galaxias fuscus) in the Goulburn valley, range extensions of the native Climbing galaxias (Galaxias brevipinnis) and confirmed the presence of the exotic species Crucian Carp (Carassius carassius) in the Basin.
Carrying out the most active period of environmental management
June 2005 to February 2006 was the most active period of environmental management in the history of River Murray since its regulation.
Existing allocations in the River Murray system helped water over 36,000 hectares of floodplain at the icon sites for environmental purposes. The benefits from this environmental watering included high levels of fish spawning, bird breeding and regeneration of stressed vegetation.
Other positive activities have included
- Over 500 GL (5 years worth of the Barmah-Millewa Forest Environmental Water Allocation) to water Barmah-Millewa Forest, which resulted in significant waterbird breeding and spawning of threatened fish species
- Water was released for over seven months through the Barrages, allowing for continuous operations of the fishways at Goolwa and Tauwitchere during this period
- Raising of the weir pools for environmental purposes at Lock 1, Lock 4, Lock 5, Lock 6 and Lock 8 to water drought ridden wetland sites
- River Red Gum Rescue which provided funds to pump 19 GL of water to up to 1500 Ha of stressed River Red Gums along the Lower Murray
Working with Indigenous nations
- In March 2006, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and the MDBC signed a Memorandum of Understanding recognising shared interests and goals regarding the management of land and water in the Murray and Lower Darling Rivers Basin. The signing of the MOU formalised Indigenous involvement in MDBC's programs and projects.
- Lake Victoria in south western NSW is a key water storage in the management of water resources in the Basin and an important cultural heritage site for the Aboriginal community. A Cultural Landscape Plan of Management developed in consultation with the Barkindji nation protects the lake’s nationally significant cultural heritage values of the Lake while also ensuring that the Basin's water resource requirements are met.
Creating sound scientific and technical knowledge
The MDBC’s major achievements have all been underpinned by first class science and knowledge.
Over a period of 15 years, from 1995 to 2005, the MDBC’s Strategic Investigations and Education Program developed sound scientific and technical knowledge for the Commission’s policy and strategic development.
The program operated four sub-programs which achieved the following significant results:
- The Dryland sub-program contributed to knowledge of dryland salinity and costs, groundwater status, quality and management, land capability, pasture capacity and sediments and nutrient exports.
- The Irrigation sub-program boosted adoption of better natural resource management practices among irrigators in the Basin and contributed to audit and certification scheme models, water quality, best management practices, water efficiency measures and reducing channel seepage.
- The Rivers sub-program supported the ecologically-sustainable management of the riverine environment and initiate the generation of knowledge to slow, halt or reverse degradation in the full range of river, stream and floodplain wetland environments.
- The Basin Communities sub-program boosted awareness, knowledge sharing and skills and attitudes among Basin communities.