The Murray-Darling Basin Plan sets out rules to sustainably manage surface and ground-water resources across four States and the ACT. To implement these rules, States are developing water resource plans (WRPs), which set out the accounting arrangements for managing to sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) and the rules or management arrangements which mitigate risks to groundwater. To date, finalising these WRPs has been a key focus of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to ensure they are robust and meet requirements. However, with WRPs to be finalised in 2019, it is timely to consider the next steps for groundwater planning across the Murray-Darling Basin.
These ‘next steps’ are being identified through a review of the issues identified during the WRP assessment process, and the content of recent reviews of the Basin Plan – including the recent Productivity Commission five-year assessment. For example, while WRPs detail rules to manage risks, they are set at a relatively large spatial scale and don’t prescribe detailed management at the local scale. This means there are some groundwater risks which may not be fully managed by WRPs.
Based on preliminary reviews, key priorities into the future include understanding the impacts of climate change on groundwater resources, managing local groundwater issues, communicating more effectively with the public, reviewing recharge estimates and better understanding surface water–groundwater connectivity. Much of this work involves working with Basin states and industry partners to address key knowledge gaps and build an evidence base for the full Basin Plan review which will take place in 2026. The 2026 review will provide an opportunity to review groundwater SDLs and consider whether provisions in the Basin Plan are sufficient to sustainably manage groundwater systems, based on best available information. This work ensures the Basin Plan is adaptive and fit-for-purpose, optimising long-term outcomes for communities and the environment.