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Murray Darling voices weigh-in on basin plan review

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has responded to stakeholders who debated the health of Australia's biggest river system at a recent summit.



The Murray-Darling Basin Plan needs clear environmental targets and outcomes to assess its progress, stakeholders have told the authority in charge of the waterway.


The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has published its response to an April summit where stakeholders including scientists, irrigators, Indigenous groups and political leaders converged to discuss the state and future of Australia's largest river system.


The authority's chief executive Andrew McConville says while the plan has returned more than 2100 gigalitres to the environment, there is still a long way to go.


"We've seen improvement in a number of key environmental sites," Mr McConville told AAP.


"It was pretty clear that whilst much has been done, we're still not on track."


Andrew McConville says governments need to improve infrastructure to send flows where they're needed


The authority is due to hand down its final review on the basin plan in 2026, and is ramping up consultation in the meantime.


Mr McConville said the talks helped find common ground between often opposing voices.


"There was an inordinate about of goodwill," he said.


"There's a task for us as the authority going forward to try and get closer to a shared understanding of what a healthy basin actually means, because if we can get that then we know the outcomes we're trying to achieve."


The summit also underscored a need to shift the volume-focused perspective of the Plan - to return 3200 gigalitres to the environment each year - to drive specific outcomes.


"How do we get the maximum value of every gigalitre recovered, and are we using that in the best and most efficient way?" Mr McConville said.


"We can actually get even more environmental outcomes with the same volume of water."


He said the agricultural industry had done significant work in driving efficiency on the back of higher water prices, while governments had a role to play in improving infrastructure to send flows where they were needed.


The federal government in December introduced the Restoring our Rivers legislation after it was recognised the decade-old plan was failing and too much water was being extracted.


An increase in water buybacks have stoked fears among irrigators in one of the driest autumns in decades.


"There is still concern in the community, some being (that) we're not recovering the water quickly enough and others that we shouldn't be recovering any more water, or that we should be recovering it in alternative ways," Mr McConville said.


The authority will hand down an insights paper on the summit at its next event, River Reflections, to be held in the border city of Albury in NSW.


"I think people recognise the position we sit in and I think we can play a really important role in that bridge between different communities, government, and politicians to say, 'This is the way forward for water,'" Mr McConville said.

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