Both MDB Authority Chair Mr. Craig Knowles and Environment Minister Burke made no mention of the findings of the CSIRO review when they addressed media about the Proposed Basin Plan yesterday.
CSIRO Headquarters Author:Bidgee Source:Wikipedia License: CC BY-SA 3.0
In May this year the Murray-Darling Basin Authority asked CSIRO to review the methodology used in developing the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan. An interim assessment was provided in September, and the full findings of the review panel have finally been released along with the draft Basin Plan documents on November 28.
The failure of the proposed 2750 billion litres of additional water reviving the Murray-Darling has been proven not once, but twice through the process of the review because:
The review panel has found five main flaws in the modelling used to develop the draft Basin Plan which was released yesterday morning. The most important finding – one which organisations and individuals who take a strong interest in reviving the Basin have been crying hoarse about ever since the figures were made known – is that 2750 billion litres of water will not meet key environmental requirements.
The other significant flaws identified by the review panel include:
- Climate change has not been accounted for in the modelling, with environmental water most likely to be compromised as a result
- Limited use of ecological models and expert opinion
- Identifying a handful of “key” sites in the basin and
The review panel made it very clear that higher volumes needed to be modelled by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The Water Act 2007 which was passed by Federal Parliament and started the process of the development of a national plan for the Murray-Darling by an independent Basin Authority requires that ‘what the river needs’ is first identified and modelled in the plan. The draft Basin Plan fails this requirement by a very wide margin.
The second failure is related to the scope of the work the science panel was asked to undertake by the Authority. The terms of reference for the review panel asked a few good questions, but had significant omissions.
For example, instead of asking “Does the proposed plan apply a valid method for identifying key environmental assets and functions and determining their environmental flow requirments? the MDBA asked the panel “Has the best available scientific information (climate, hydrology and ecology) been used” and “Have the best available hydrologic and environmental models been used”.
The key findings of the review panel underline the limitations and omissions of the original terms of reference provided by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
If the overwhelming findings of a review panel who were not asked all the right questions to start with is that the environment needs much more than 2750 billion litres of water, what would a scientific review panel who are asked to answer all the right questions find?
This is a now or never time for the Murray-Darling; there is now an opportunity to pass the plan through Federal Parliament. But Federal Parliament needs to be able to vote for the plan on the basis of its adequacy for the environment. With close to $10 billion of Australian taxpayer’s money being set aside to help communities adjust, no one wants to have to live with a bad plan which provides no certainty for communities and condemns the rivers to a slow death. Australians also do not want to go through the next drought without fixing the problem. The only thing left to be done, and the outcome we all want, is a plan which flushes out salt, keeps the water clean, and supports communities in the long-term.
With the “independent” Murray-Darling Basin Authority having blown its credibility in addressing what the environment needs, the ball is in Federal Minister Burke’s court. To give himself and Federal Parliament the right evidence to support a Basin Plan next year, he should institute an independent scientific panel which asks all the relevant questions.