The Barwon-Darling is an ecosystem in crisis. The current cease to flow period is the longest since records began. Communities that live along the river are under serious stress. The catchment, including its upstream tributaries, have been highly modified by development over the past several decades, impacting the systems’ resilience. An intense drought, significant upstream water extraction, an apparent climate shift and the rules in the Water Sharing Plan for the Barwon-Darling Unregulated and Alluvial Water Sources 2012 (the Plan) have all contributed to poor ecological, social and cultural outcomes.
Communities who can no longer fish, swim or drink the river water have called for the Plan to be fundamentally overhauled. These calls have been matched by graziers who have struggled to provide for their stock as the river has dried up. At the same time, irrigators have been criticised even as they too have been unable to pump due to cease to flow events increasing in frequency and duration.
As a result of these events, the former Minister for Regional Water, the Hon Niall Blair MLC, requested that the Natural Resources Commission (the Commission) bring forward its statutory review of the Plan. This review considers the extent to which the Plan has contributed to environmental, social and economic outcomes, and provides advice on whether changes to some provisions of the Plan are warranted. The Commission’s draft report was released for public consultation on 24 July 2019. The significant public interest in the Plan and the draft report resulted in the Commission receiving 1,231 submissions, including 121 unique submissions. These submissions were considered in this, the final report, which was delivered to the Minister for Water, the Hon Melinda Pavey MP on 6 September 2019.