The mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin has become a national issue in 2019. While the Basin’s problems are widely discussed, solutions are not. Practical steps to turn around the fortunes of the Basin and its people are:
Provide emergency relief to the southern Basin dairy industry.
Efficient family dairy farms that have passed down through generations are at immediate risk due to high water prices driven by drought and new demand at the SA border. Water should be made available from the South Australian deferred entitlement account as an opening allocation in the 2019 water year.
Develop a policy framework to ensure diversity in Basin agriculture.
Water reforms, including water trading and the Basin Plan, have restructured agriculture in the Basin. Without a new approach to regional economic development, industries such as dairy and rice will be lost, while almonds and cotton dominate.
A federal Royal Commission or federal ICAC investigation.
The investigation should have wide scope including: the water efficiency program, floodplain harvesting, the operations of Murrumbidgee Irrigation Limited, strategic purchases, Broken Hill pipeline, the draining of Menindee Lakes in 2016/17 and SA’s management of the Lower Lakes and Coorong.
Pause the Basin Plan until the above steps have been carried out.
This means pausing accreditation of water resource plans, the efficiency program including the 450GL of ‘upwater’, supply measure projects and the issue of new floodplain harvesting licences. The pause should not affect environmental watering, volumes owned by environmental water holders, collaboration with Aboriginal people on water management, development of constraints management strategy or policies to protect environmental water.