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Published: 09 February 2022

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 8 February 2022 by video teleconference. The meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston with all members present. Authority members expressed their disappointment at not being able to meet in person at Cowra on Wiradjuri Country as planned, due to the COVID-19 situation. They look forward to the next opportunity to gather at a location within the Basin.

Sir Angus introduced new Authority member Roseanne Healy and fellow Board members warmly welcomed her to her first meeting. They also acknowledged the Minister's announcement last week of 6 new Basin Community Committee members: Mr Andrew Drysdale (Top Camp, Queensland); Mr Mike Gilby (Irymple, Victoria); Mr Warren Jacobs (Mt Compass, South Australia); Mr Feli McHughes (Lightning Ridge, New South Wales); Ms Emelia Sudholdz (Horsham, Victoria); and Ms Alice Williams (Orange, New South Wales) noting the diversity of the communities and interests they and the 8 continuing members represent.

They were also informed that Sir Angus' planned listening tour to the Lachlan Valley this month had been postponed due to COVID-19. However, several meetings scheduled during this period will still take place, either virtually or in Canberra, including with Lachlan Valley Water, Central NSW Joint Organisation of Councils and the Wiradjuri Corporation and Condobolin Lands Council. Planning continues for a northern Basin tour in March to several locations in southern and south-west Queensland.

The Authority discussed current conditions throughout the Basin, with a briefing from acting Executive Director of River Management Andrew Kremor. Rainfall varied significantly across the Murray–Darling Basin in December. It was very much below average in parts of western Victoria and South Australia, whereas most of the northern Basin and upper Murray catchment recorded near to above-average rainfall. This prompted operations to manage the level in Hume Dam, an unusual situation this far into summer with the dam still at around 99% capacity. The Hume Dam has not been at this level in January since 1994. River operations, media, communications and engagement teams were commended for successfully managing releases from the full dam to mitigate serious downstream flooding over the past 6 months and keeping the community informed. This long period of flood operations included the wettest January on record at the dam with the monthly record of 213mm set in 1974 exceeded by 105mm. With the Hume Dam storage at high levels, planning has started on how the MDBA will manage risks into winter and spring.

High flows and the forecast of continuing La Niña conditions bringing above-average rainfall into autumn, means many river systems across the Basin remain primed for hypoxic blackwater events (low dissolved oxygen) and algal blooms. Members were pleased to hear how the work of the MDBA and partner stakeholders had raised dissolved oxygen levels above critical thresholds immediately downstream of Hume Dam to improve the conditions for fish and Murray crays.

Independent Principal Adviser to the Australian Government on water market reform Daryl Quinlivan provided a verbal update on the development of the water reform roadmap. The phased implementation plan, known as the roadmap, is an outcome of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry report on Murray–Darling Basin water markets released last March. Mr Quinlivan advised members of the actions supported by Basin states that can be implemented quickly to enhance confidence in water markets, provided as initial advice to the government in December. He also gave a progress report on the full roadmap that is due to be delivered later this year.

Members discussed the status of New South Wales water resource plans. Over the past 18 months all 20 plans were formally submitted to the MDBA, and then on advice from the MDBA were subsequently withdrawn for redrafting to make improvements and meet all requirements in the Basin Plan. In December 2021, Ministers agreed to a new resubmission process which will see all plans come through a second time for formal assessment. The MDBA continues to work closely with New South Wales to support re-drafting of the plans and progress toward accreditation.

ACT Basin Officials Committee member Geoffrey Rutledge (Deputy Director-General, ACT Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate) provided an update on cross-border water management in the upper Murrumbidgee and highlighted the importance of a long-term water quality and salinity plan for the upper Murrumbidgee. Members thanked Mr Rutledge for bringing this important cross-jurisdiction matter to their attention.

The Hon Troy Grant, Inspector-General of Water Compliance (IGWC), provided a verbal report on the ongoing relationship and transparency of the intersecting compliance functions across the agencies.

The Authority received briefings from its Commonwealth partners, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) and Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO). Acting Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) Hilton Taylor provided a verbal update on their recent activities. He said there had been significant outcomes thanks to the wetter season and the CEWO is managing environmental water to supplement conditions in the coming year. Mr Taylor mentioned the CEWO had conducted workshops with northern and southern First Nations groups. First Assistant Secretary at DAWE Rachel Connell provided an update on the implementation of the government's Community Investment Package, including the Minister's recent Healthy Rivers Grants announcements.

The next Authority meeting will be held in Canberra on Ngunnawal Country in March 2022.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)
Professor Stuart Bunn
Ms Roseanne Healy
Ms Joanna Hewitt AO
Ms Susan Madden
Mr Rene Woods
Andrew Reynolds (acting Chief Executive)

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