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Murray Darling Basin Plan Now Law

26 November 2012

AUSTRALIA - After more than 100 years of difficulties, Australia now has a single, national plan for managing water in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Federal Water Minister Tony Burke signed the Basin Plan into law today, less than 24 hours after receiving the latest draft from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority,ABC Rural reports.

In the end, there were no surprises: the final plan contained everything that Mr Burke asked the Authority to include when he sent it his final changes at the beginning of November.

The Basin Plan names 2,750 gigalitres as the baseline target for the amount of water to be recovered for the Murray-Darling environment.

It also includes an adjustment mechanism which will mean that 2,750 gigalitre figure could be reduced if it's shown the same environmental outcome could be met by using less water more efficiently; it also means the target could be increased to 3,200 gigalitres, where that's achieved through infrastructure and efficiency improvements and not through buybacks, and therefore can be shown to have no greater adverse socio-economic impact on the Basin.

It's that mechanism that the Federal Government has already committed to using, to return a total of 3,200 gigalitres to the Basin environment.

In line with changes agreed to by the states, and sent by Mr Burke to the Authority, the Basin Plan also puts figures on the contentious issue of apportionment in the Southern Basin.

Until the beginning of this month, there was no agreement between the states on who should be responsible for the 971 gigalitres of so-called 'shared component' of water to be returned to the Basin environment, in addition to valley-specific targets that already exist in each state.

The recent agreement becomes law as well, with NSW committing to contribute 458 gigalitres, or 47.2 per cent of the Southern Basin shared component, and Victoria will account for 43.8 per cent, or 425.3 gigalitres, in line with each state's historical levels of water use.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, signed the Basin Plan into law at lunchtime on Thursday.

A short time later, in a speech at the National Press Club, Mr Burke outlined the process that lead to the historic national agreement on the Murray-Darling. He said that the environment became a serious factor in Murray-Darling negotiations in 1991, when a blue-green algae outbreak 1,000 kilometres long clogged the river system.

"The environment, when it turned up to the negotiating table, turned out to be more ruthless and less compromising than any of the states; the environment turned up at the negotiating table and said, 'if you're going to manage the rivers this way then none of you can have the water', he said.

"Effectively the rivers decided that if we were going to manage the water as if it stopped at state boundaries, then the water was willing to stop."

South Australia, which had originally argued it had already contributed enough to the overall water recovery target, will now return 8.5 per cent, or 82.8 gigalitres, while the ACT, effectively the city of Canberra, will cough up 0.5 per cent, or 4.9 gigalitres.

Further Reading

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