Water resources in the River Murray are shared across multiple states through a set of arrangements that date back more than 100 years, embedded in the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement (MDB Agreement). Persistent drought conditions over recent years have resulted in concerns about the implementation and ongoing appropriateness of the arrangements in the MDB Agreement.

In December 2019, the Interim Inspector-General of Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources (IIG) was asked by the Commonwealth Minister for Water to conduct an inquiry into the impact of changing inflows to the southern Murray-Darling Basin and its effect on the water sharing arrangements set out in the MDB Agreement.

The IIG recently released the findings from his inquiry: Impact of lower inflows on state shares under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

The report highlights that there has been a significant decrease in inflows into the River Murray over the last 20 years, emphasising the impact of an increasingly variable and changing climate on water availability. While the Inquiry found that the interstate water sharing arrangements set out by the MDB Agreement are being implemented as intended, the report does highlight the challenge of equitably and efficiently sharing scarce water supplies and the importance of having a robust and transparent framework for doing so. The fact that the arrangements in the MDB Agreement have withstood over 100-years of history, amidst the most variable inflows in the world and a changing climate, is significant. With a water entitlement market valued at over $20 billion reliant on these arrangements, it is also well worth continued investment to ensure that the arrangements continue to be appropriate and transparent.

The report was submitted to the Minister for Water, the Hon. Keith Pitt, on 30 March, who subsequently endorsed the five recommendations:

  1. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) should undertake further analysis of the causes of reduced inflows from the northern Basin and the extent to which this is affecting State water shares.
  2. To increase trust in and transparency about water-sharing, the MDBA should provide clear and easily accessible information about Special Accounting measures, including the circumstances under which they are applied and how they are used to determine State allocations.
  3. The MDBA should clearly communicate the results of its examination of underuse of allocations and compare them with the submissions made to this Inquiry so that accurate feedback can be provided to the community.
  4. The Basin Officials Committee (BOC) should consider implementing a single authoritative platform that combines information currently available on the various Commonwealth and state websites, to provide higher levels of transparency and trust and to improve water literacy.
  5. The BOC should consider ways through which States and agencies could work together across their respective jurisdictions to include water literacy in high school and higher education curriculums, including VET, in regional areas.

Aither assisted the Interim Inspector-General’s office in the process, and looks forward to continuing to support government agencies managing water resources strategically and effectively across the Basin.