Water for the environment will play a critical role in keeping rivers and wetlands healthy across the Murray-Darling Basin this summer, as Australia braces for a return to hot and dry conditions.
With the Bureau of Meteorology’s alert issued for the return of El Niño in the coming months, Commonwealth water for the environment carried over into this year will be essential to help keep native plants and animals alive.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder Dr Simon Banks said that across the Basin, 977 gigalitres (GL) has been carried over into 2023–24 after another wet 12 months marked by flooding and above average rainfall.
“This water will play an integral role in ensuring the best possible environmental outcomes can be achieved, Dr Banks said.
“Our focus in 2023-24 will be on continuing to help native fish recover from poor water quality, and ensuring the millions of waterbird fledglings that had been born over the past two years have enough food and shelter.”
Dr Banks said he is committed to transparency and providing regular updates on the management of the Commonwealth’s environmental water.
“Information about Commonwealth environmental water holdings are updated monthly on our website, and we’ve recently published a map, showing where and when water is being used across the Basin, which is updated on a fortnightly basis,” he said.
The amount of water carried over into the new water year represents just a fraction, or 4.7 per cent, of the total water that can be stored in dams across the Basin. Contrary to some claims, the Commonwealth’s water is not filling up dams and causing flooding.
Just like other water users, carryover water plays a critical role in the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder’s approach to water management. It ensures water is available early in the new water year (starting on 1 July) to help meet demands in winter-spring. It can also be used to manage the risk of low allocations in future years, particularly in the northern Basin.
Dr Banks said Commonwealth environmental water was bound by the same rules as other water users.
“We adhere to the same rules and limits on how much water we can carryover,” he said.
The volumes carried over by environmental water managers are comparable to other users, and in some cases, can be much less. For example, in the NSW Murray valley, 721 GL of water was carried over by all water users into 2023–24 or about 43 per cent of their accounts. In comparison, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder carried over 75 GL or about 20 per cent.
“We have a really important role contributing to a healthy and sustainable Basin. We take our responsibility of managing the Commonwealth’s water for the environment seriously, and we’re committed to making decisions that ensure we get the best possible outcomes for the areas across the Basin that really need it. This is not only good for the environment it is good for local communities,” Dr Banks said.
The Commonwealth environmental water management plans for 2023–24 will be published in coming weeks.