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In the Murray-Darling Basin area, governments have agreed to set aside a proportion of water for environmental purposes (environmental water), to be used at times and locations where plants and animals benefit from higher river flows or replenishing wetlands.

A sizeable quantity of environmental water is controlled by the Australian Government. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) and staff in the Department of the Environment and Energy oversee how this water is managed. The Water Act 2007 (Cth) outlines the CEWH’s functions, powers and responsibilities. This includes a responsibility to protect and restore environmental assets in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Current legislative and policy arrangements aim to balance environmental objectives with water made available for consumptive uses. While healthy rivers have wider social, cultural and recreational benefits, witnesses frequently reminded the Committee that water availability also impacts on economic prosperity and agricultural production.

Environmental water is a relatively new concept – both in Australia and internationally. As knowledge and experience in managing environmental water develops, standards of best practice will continue to evolve. In this context, the inquiry has provided a timely opportunity to consider:

  • How is Commonwealth environmental water currently being managed?
  • Can it be done better? Is there scope to improve?
  • What progress has been achieved?

This report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter 1 provides an introduction to environmental water and other background information;
  • Chapter 2 relates to environmental water management issues, potential areas for improvement and environmental watering challenges;
  • Chapter 3 considers how outcomes are being evaluated, measured and monitored; and
  • Chapter 4 discusses how community awareness and engagement couldbe improved, including how local expertise and knowledge is being utilised.
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