The $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan will not be completed on time, with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority advising that full implementation will not be possible by 30 June 2024.
Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek, has concluded that “we have to extend the time frame”, confirming that the Federal Government is “determined to deliver the whole of the Murray Darling Basin Plan”.
The plan is predicted to fall hundreds of gigalitres short when it hits its mid-2024 deadline, with the Minister stating the plan is likely to fall around 750GL, 300,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, short.
MDBA advice states that very little progress has been made in achieving the 450 GL/y efficiency target. Positing that this water will not be recovered by 30 June 2024 as required under current settings.
In a statement releasing the advice, the MDBA chair Sir Angus Houston said he had told Minister Plibersek that, “full implementation of the Basin Plan will not be possible by June 30, 2024”.
“Implementation of the Basin Plan is at a critical juncture. It is important that the challenges inhibiting the full delivery of the Basin Plan are quickly addressed to provide a clear pathway forward,” Sir Angus said.
Where is the shortfall?
In a national address last November, Chief Executive of the Basin Authority, Andrew McConville, warned that less than half the water from state projects was expected to be recovered on time.
The recent MDBA release and advice reveal that only 5 of 20 water resource plans in New South Wales (NSW) have been accredited. These plans are more than 4 years behind schedule, and NSW still has 7 plans to submit for assessment by the MDBA.
Additionally, critical measures for improving outcomes in the Northern Basin will not be delivered on time. With only 2 of 6 on track for on-time delivery.
The implementation of the Basin Plan has reached a critical point. Challenges hindering the full execution of the Basin Plan need to be addressed urgently to establish a clear way forward.
With a changing climate, implementing the Basin Plan remains central to giving our rivers and the communities that depend on them the best chance of a healthy future. Our best chance to deliver rivers, for generations.
Behind schedule, but still achieving.
In the MDBA’s advice to Minister Plibersek, the Authority recognises the significant achievements over the past decade of implementation.
Through water recovery under Bridging the Gap, 98% of the surface water target has been transferred to entitlements with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH).
This water has been used by the CEWH, in collaboration with state water holders and operators, to deliver environmental water to ecologically significant sites and for the benefit of the whole system. These watering events have been critical throughout droughts and between major floods to sustain these environments, maintain system connectivity and kept the River Murray connected to the sea.
The MDBA also points out that 18 water resource plans have been accredited across all 5 Basin jurisdictions. According to them, this has brought the sustainable diversion limits into effect in these areas, allowing for compliance monitoring and enforcement by the Inspector-General of Water Compliance.
They report that in most catchments, Basin states are managing their water allocations and arrangements to keep use under the consumptive limits.
Timelines still to be set
The Federal Government will work with basin states to establish new timelines and delivery dates for projects. These timelines are not going to be overly extensive, warned Minister Plibersek.
“We’re certainly not talking about five or 10 years,” she said.
“What I won’t do is give an open-ended opportunity to the states to delay and delay. We’re talking about some extensions with an increased expectation of delivery. What I want to see from the state and territories is that if they do get extra time, they will deliver the plan. It’s not an option not to deliver the plan.”
Basin state water ministers have indicated that extensions of timelines will be welcomed by NSW and VIC and accepted by SA.