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The Northern Basin review: understanding the economic, social and environmental outcomes from water recovery in the northern basin

Environmental monitoring Environmental health Rivers Water conservation Irrigation Murray-Darling Basin
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The Northern Basin Review represents an opportunity to check if the targets set for water recovery in northern basin catchments are appropriate.

It is an important step in safeguarding one of Australia’s greatest national assets, the Murray–Darling Basin. Its continued well-being is an essential part of sustaining communities into the future.

When the Basin Plan received bipartisan support in 2012, there was recognition the knowledge about the northern basin and its specific requirements could be improved. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), with the support of Basin Governments, committed to a review of the targets in the north. This report outlines the assessments done, summarises the many conversations the Authority has had and details the proposed changes.

Built into the Plan from the start was the need for careful consideration of competing interests of the environment, communities and industry; both upstream and downstream. It is an adaptive Plan and open to new and changing information.

As part of the Northern Basin Review, the amount of information considered is immense. It includes understanding the changes in communities – long-term drivers of change as well as those directly attributable to water recovery. The Authority explored how to make the most out of water recovery and also have a much better understanding of people’s intrinsic connection to rivers.

Mapping the drivers of change and their impact for northern communities (including farming technologies, population changes, floods, droughts and water reform) is invaluable in helping understand and prepare for what is often an unpredictable future.

What the Authority learned is that irrigated agricultural development has been good for businesses and communities; but taking so much water out of the system has had a serious effect on the rivers and floodplains, and created potentially long-lasting issues for water quality and water security.

This impact can be seen not only on native birds, fish and trees, but also on businesses, farms and communities, including impacts on Aboriginal communities.

The new research details what a healthy river system needs, and there is a much better understanding of what the effects of water recovery are on communities and river health.

The relationships between economic, social and environmental values are complex. With an improved information base in the north the Authority examined the outcomes for businesses, communities and the environment under different water recovery targets. This work has fed into the recommendations on changes to Basin Plan settings in the north.

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