Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council
New South Wales
Australian Capital Territory
12 April 2002
The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council met today in Corowa, on the 100th anniversary of the first interstate meeting on cooperative management of the River Murray, also held in Corowa.
The Council agreed on a number of initiatives designed to improve the health of the Murray-Darling system.
Environmental Flows for the River Murray
The Council :
These initiatives are in addition to a significant volume of work already in train to improve the environment of the River Murray, including the development of fish passage, salt interception works and improved wetland health.
The suite of actions agreed by Council will make the best use of the water currently available to the River Murray environment over the coming 7 years. These actions will result in:
These actions will improve the health of the River Murray while not affecting the security of consumptive water uses. This approach underscores the Council's desire to focus management of the structures and resources of the River Murray to improve the environment while maintaining the social and economic benefits obtained from resource use.
Council considered the issue of recovery of water for environmental flows in the River Murray, specifically in terms of the trade-offs between the social and economic impacts of any recovery and the environmental gains. Existing information regarding the range of flow scenarios developed for the project to date will be provided to the community.
To improve understanding of the costs and benefits of recovering water for the environment, Council today directed its executive arm - the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) - to identify and address key issues such as equity, property rights and water trade through the development of a business case for the recovery of 350 GL, 750 GL and 1500 GL to the River Murray. These amounts will be used as reference points for further analysis and community consultation, and include the 70 GL to become available from the Snowy River environmental flows process.
The analysis will identify local as well as system-wide environmental problems and benefits including the issues of the Murray Mouth, the Coorong, the Chowilla floodplain, the Gunbower/Perricoota and Barmah-Millewa forests, and to Murray cod. It will also identify costs of various options and strategies to manage the social and economic impacts of measures for improving the health of the River Murray.
The Council noted in particular the importance of establishing water trading arrangements for the efficient allocation of the scarce water resources of the Basin. It acknowledged that the effectiveness of such arrangements will depend significantly on clear definition of water property rights.
The Council also noted that on 5 April 2002 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed that jurisdictions would report by September 2002 on opportunities and impediments to better define and implement water property rights regimes.
The Murray-Darling Basin Commission was asked to draw upon the work being conducted under the auspices of COAG as it relates to its work on Basin water recovery matters. It was also asked to accelerate its own work on the development of water trading arrangements and related property rights in the Basin, including water trading rules that take full account of the environmental impacts of such trade.
New water sharing arrangements are approaching completion in two jurisdictions -New South Wales and Queensland. Further water made available to the River Murray environment resulting from the introduction of these arrangements will also be counted as part of the reference points.
Council recognised both the complexity of the environmental flows issue and the need for certainty in the communities relying on irrigated agriculture. To provide a dialogue between Council and communities, Council agreed today to establish an intensive Community Engagement Strategy commencing with the release on 1 July 2002 of a document to inform this process.
The Community Engagement Strategy is designed to facilitate the incorporation of community values, knowledge and aspirations for scientific and technical knowledge in developing, determining and negotiating options for the recovery of water for the environment. It will adopt both a river reach by river reach and a Basin-wide approach, and provide for input from local stakeholders, the general community in affected regions and the public interest nationally.
The Vision and Objectives for the River Murray adopted by Council in March 2001 (attached) will guide this further work. Council has made it clear that it will develop approaches that maximise benefits and minimise costs to water users.
Native Fish Strategy
The Ministerial Council endorsed a draft Native Fish Strategy and agreed to release the draft Strategy for a public comment period of six months.
The health of native fish species in the Murray-Darling Basin is an indicator of the overall health of the Basin and its rivers. Over the past century, river regulation to provide water on demand through dams, weirs and diversions has changed the natural flooding and drying cycles of the river systems - this has affected the health of river habitats and native fish populations. It is estimated that native fish populations are now at 10 per cent of pre-Europeans levels and likely to decline to five per cent unless interventions occur. The Strategy has the goal of rehabilitating native fish communities in the Murray-Darling Basin back to 60 per cent of their estimated pre-European settlement levels after 50 years of implementation.
The Strategy is centred on the implementation of key driving actions aimed at: rehabilitating and protecting fish habitat; managing riverine structures; controlling alien fish species; protecting threatened native fish species; and managing fish translocation and stocking. Inherent in the Strategy is the notion that environmental flows are critical to the rehabilitation of native fish populations.
The Ministerial Council has agreed to invest in "daughterless carp" technology that has the prospect of reducing European Carp impacts dramatically over 20-30 years. The Commission will work closely with CSIRO Marine Science to carefully evaluate the potential for this technology and to plan for its implementation.
Chair of the Community Advisory Committee
The Ministerial Council re-appointed Ms Leith Boully as Chairman of the Council's Community Advisory Committee for a 3 year term. The Council acknowledged the effective leadership of Ms Boully and influential advice from the Committee. To assist the Committee further improve its operations, the Council will review its processes in the near future.
Deputy President of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission
The Ministerial Council appointed Commissioner Bob Smith, of New South Wales, as Deputy President of the Commission.
Murray-Darling Basin Commission Budget 2002-03
The Ministerial Council approved the Murray-Darling Basin Commission's budget for 2002-03 totalling $79.916 million - an increase of almost $11.9 million over the 2001-02 budget. Key areas of increased activity include:
Independent Audit Group Report
The Ministerial Council considered the Report of the Independent Audit Group (IAG) on compliance with the Cap for the 2000/01 season. The Council noted that the long term diversion Cap had been exceeded in the Namoi and Barwon/Darling/Lower Darling valleys and slightly in the Lachlan valley. New South Wales will report to the next Council meeting on why the Cap was exceeded, the action that will be taken to bring diversions back into balance, and the period over which this correction will occur.
The Council noted that diversions in South Australia and Victoria were within the Cap and also that diversions in the ACT were within the Cap that the IAG had recommended for that jurisdiction but which has not yet been agreed. The Council noted that Queensland had not yet completed its Water Resource Planning process which will define the Cap in Queensland, although the moratorium on the construction of works has slowed water use development.
The Council noted that jurisdictions are to report to the Commission on a number of implementation issues raised in the IAG Report, including the audit and approval of valley models, the development of Quality Management Systems for diversion data and the resolution of the rules for water trade.
Independent Review of Pricing Arrangements for River Murray Water
The Ministerial Council endorsed in principle the findings of an Independent Review of Pricing Arrangements for River Murray Water, which assessed River Murray Water's performance against the 1995 COAG agreement on National Competition Policy. The Independent Review found that substantial progress has been achieved through the formation of River Murray Water and the reform of cost sharing arrangements. It promotes the adoption of a renewals annuity to better reflect required pricing levels. The Council requested the Commission to prepare a detailed report for the next Council meeting on an agreed program for implementation of the findings.
Last updated on: 4/ 6/ 04