Cross-border approach to Basin review

FORMER Murray-Darling Basin Commission chief executive, Don Blackmore is part of a four-member panel that will review the offset mechanisms outlined in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to ensure environmental results occur without short-changing Basin communities.

The Victorian and New South Wales governments have asked Mr Blackmore, as well as water resource management expert, Brett Tucker; aquatic environmental scientist Professor Peter Davies; and Chris Arnott - who helped develop the Australian Environmental Water Management Report 2010 - to look at the measures in place to ensure social, environmental and economic benefits are met.

The panel will provide advice on the technical foundations of the Basin Plan's Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment mechanism, which allows for the 2750-gigalitre recovery target in the Basin Plan to be offset by 650 gigalitres through projects that deliver equivalent environmental outcomes with less water. 

"This expert panel will provide oversight and certainty for communities that the plan is working in the best interests of farmers and the environment," Victorian Minister for Water, Lisa Neville said.

"We support the recovery of water through infrastructure investments to reduce leakage and evaporation in our irrigation systems – but we don't support further water buybacks."

"This issue is above politics. Communities north and south of the Murray River are facing the same challenges," Mr Blair said.

"To continue to get the best deal possible for New South Wales under the Basin Plan we need to keep water where it is needed most – in our regional communities, producing the food and fibre of this great state.

"This is a very experienced panel that will provide governments with an assessment of the adjustment methodology to enable more informed decision making about environmental benefits and ensure operational matters are fully considered."

The Victorian Farmers Federation said it was optimistic the review would help to ensure the Basin Plan delivered environmental benefits without impacting Basin communities.

"We know how important water is to our irrigation communities and it's vital that we do everything that we can to protect this important asset," federation president, David Jochinke said.

"A just-add-water approach to tackling environmental management in the Basin would have been simply unacceptable. We argued strongly for engineering and solutions to contribute to the water recovery targets of the Basin Plan."

The panel will report to both ministers in mid-March.

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