Presentation by David Papps at ARABES Outlook 2016
0:01 It's a pleasure to be here to talk about adaptive management
0:03 of commonwealth environmental water in the Murray-Darling
0:06 Basin, and it flows very nicely from what Philip has said.
0:10 It's the first time I've had the opportunity to address
0:13 this prestigious event.
0:17 And let me start too, by acknowledging
0:19 the traditional owners of the land on which we meet,
0:21 the Ngunnawal, and pay my respects to their elders,
0:24 past and present.
0:25 I think it's probably fair to say that the commonwealth
0:28 environmental watering programme is unmatched anywhere else
0:33 in the world for scale and ambition.
0:35 And even though it's only early days,
0:38 it represents a unique experience,
0:43 in terms of protecting and restoring
0:45 the environment in a regulated system.
0:49 And so there's much to be learned from it.
0:51 That's another way, also, of saying
0:53 that I can't cover all that we do in 15 minutes,
0:57 and I'm not going to try.
0:59 So instead I'll give you some very brief context,
1:02 and then I want to talk in more detail,
1:04 but again very limited detail, about three things-- first,
1:08 how we are managing quite deliberately
1:10 and collaboratively two very specific targets,
1:14 two very clear outcomes.
1:16 Secondly, I want to talk a little bit about my good
1:18 neighbour policy, and then thirdly,
1:21 I'll give you only two examples, but two from a wide array
1:27 of examples, of adaptive management.
1:29 So we really are trying to take this concept is much-talked
1:34 about and often very little practised and turn it
1:38 into the real world in the basin.
1:46 You might have seen this slide in the last talk, which
1:49 is not surprising, since I shamelessly plagiarised it
1:52 from the MDBA.
1:53 And I'm not going to go through it again.
1:55 But I do want to use it to make this point,
1:58 that what we're talking about in the Murray-Darling Basin is
2:01 an environmental programme that is set firmly within
2:05 the context of a large and prosperous agricultural
2:12 This is a place that produces a great deal of food and fibre,
2:17 has for a long time, and will continue to do so.
2:20 So here is a real-world natural resource management
2:24 or conservation programme, if you'd like,
2:26 set very firmly in the context of a working basin.
2:30 And if you look at those fast facts,
2:31 you get that sense both of the agricultural output and also
2:37 the natural values that are left there.
2:39 So our ambition is to work within that framework.
2:42 There is no intent on our part to wind back the clock.
2:47 We're working in a highly modified system.
2:51 Commonwealth environmental water holder-- that's the position
2:54 I hold.
2:54 As David suggested, it's a statutory position
2:57 established under the Commonwealth Water Act.
2:59 And it has a singular-- arguably an elegant-- purpose, which
3:04 is I am responsible for protecting or restoring
3:07 the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling basin.
3:10 Environmental assets, of course, is a legal term
3:13 to describe in a sort of dispassionate way
3:17 the rivers, wetlands, and flood plains of the Murray-Darling
3:21 Every decision I might as the Commonwealth Environmental
3:24 Water Holder has to be consistent with the Water Act,
3:28 with the Environmental Watering Plan, which
3:30 is chapter 8 of the basin plan that Phillip already
3:32 talked about, and with the Environmental Watering
3:35 And so this is the beginning of that first point
3:37 I wanted to focus on.
3:39 You will often hear, if you're interested in this debate,
3:41 or see, claims that the Commonwealth Environmental
3:46 Watering Programme is unclear about what its aims are.
3:51 It doesn't know what to do with the water.
3:53 We've got too much water and no ambitions
3:56 in terms of the changes we're trying to make.
3:58 That's very clearly not true.
4:02 The targets are set out for me in these instruments.
4:06 What's on the screen-- and I'm not
4:08 going to go through it in any detail.
4:10 I think we've cleverly designed it
4:11 so you can't read it anyway-- is the extract from the basin
4:16 plan, chapter 8 of the environmental watering plan.
4:20 And you can see, or you could see, if you look carefully.
4:23 that there are three broad objectives or outcomes
4:26 that guide all of my decision making.
4:28 And remember these are mandatory.
4:30 This act is mandatory.
4:33 As well as the Environmental Watering Plan,
4:37 I have a basin-wide strategy developed by the Murray-Darling
4:40 Basin Authority.
4:41 This actually applies to all the environmental water holders,
4:44 so those who work in the state as well as the commonwealth
4:48 are obliged to deliver water in ways
4:50 that support the outcomes here.
4:52 And again, I'm not going to go through this in detail.
4:55 And in fact, this is a very brief summary
4:58 of a quite long and complex document that
5:01 targets four specific areas-- the headings in the green
5:06 there-- and then has an ambition under each of those
5:09 and then a series of specific targets.
5:11 I've included just one target under each area
5:13 to give you an example.
5:15 But the point of that is if you look at those
5:17 targets they're not vague.
5:20 They're quite specific, measurable,
5:23 manageable targets that we are expected to achieve.
5:27 You might also see, if you look at the timeline
5:29 on the basin-wide strategies, that we're not expected
5:31 to achieve them overnight.
5:33 They very sensibly take account of the fact
5:37 that ecological outcomes are long-term.
5:40 Some of these will take at least a decade, if not
5:43 more-- decades.
5:45 Also make the point that these targets apply to the state,
5:48 so it's not just commonwealth environmental water.
5:50 It's all the environment water held by the states,
5:53 and that they're achievable under the existing system,
5:56 under the existing constraints and rules and guidelines.
6:02 And that's certainly our perspective.
6:06 I'm also obliged as the state water holder
6:09 to take into account annual priorities across the basin.
6:13 These are set each and every year by the Murray-Darling
6:16 Basin Authority.
6:17 So again, you can see the relationship.
6:19 The authority is, in a sense, the regulator,
6:22 the target centre.
6:24 It will make assessments in my performance
6:26 against those targets over time.
6:29 And in that same vein, it sets annual priorities.
6:32 These are not mandatory on me, but I do
6:34 have to take them into account.
6:36 Again, I'm not going to go through all of these
6:38 in and read them.
6:40 It's simply to reinforce the point
6:42 that you can see a hierarchy of outcomes and objectives,
6:47 from broad biodiversity protection outcomes
6:50 in the basin plan through to very specific ones
6:53 in the strategy, to even more specific ones
6:56 annually that take account of the circumstances in the basin.
7:00 And these include very specific geographic targets,
7:03 for example.
7:03 So there's some up there about the Coorong and the lower
7:06 lakes, others about Mid-Murrumbidgee Wetlands,
7:09 and so on.
7:11 Which gets me to my second point that I
7:15 wanted to focus on about how we deliver environmental water.
7:19 And this is not a technical conversation.
7:22 This is really an opportunity for me to speak very briefly
7:25 about our good neighbour policy.
7:29 So like all irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin,
7:32 I have entitlements to water.
7:35 And each class of entitlement has its characteristics
7:40 that are rules and procedures that are attached to those.
7:43 And I'm entitled to use water in ways
7:46 that are governed by those entitlements and the rules set
7:49 by the state utilities.
7:52 But within that legal framework I've chosen to work within
7:58 a voluntary management framework that I'm calling my good
8:01 neighbour policy for want of a better name.
8:05 And this is really based on a simple principle.
8:07 And again, in the same way that I plagiarised your slide,
8:11 I probably plagiarised a bit of the Hippocratic oath.
8:14 And so the good neighbour policy is built around the notion
8:17 of first do no harm.
8:18 So really, it's a set of guidelines or protocols
8:22 that we observed during our decision making
8:24 to be very conservative and risk-averse to avoid
8:28 third party impacts.
8:30 That's code for making sure we don't impact on irrigators,
8:33 our neighbours, commercial irrigators,
8:35 and to embrace local knowledge and meaningful engagement,
8:40 so that in the end-- and we're not there yet--
8:44 we arrive at a position-- we hope-- of respectful,
8:48 mutually respectful, and harmonious coexistence with
8:51 commercial irrigators, farmers.
8:54 Just to mention briefly, localism--
8:57 this is an extension or good neighbour policy or a component
9:00 of the good neighbour policy.
9:01 This is about involving local communities.
9:04 Again, I'm not going to read you the slide,
9:07 but I want to use it as a prompt to talk about our commitment to
9:11 engagement and participation by local communities.
9:14 I acknowledge right at the very beginning
9:16 that we've got a long way to go in this regard.
9:19 Governments and government agencies, including my own
9:22 are notoriously bad at community engagement.
9:26 We struggle with it.
9:27 It's not a skill that we're necessarily recruited for,
9:30 and so we often have to learn by experience
9:33 and harsh experiences.
9:36 But we are learning.
9:38 And we're not making a judgement,
9:40 by the way, about how successful we are.
9:41 We will leave the judgments to the communities.
9:44 When they feel as though we've reached that point,
9:47 then we will have reached that point.
9:48 We haven't yet.
9:50 And the point around localism is really
9:53 we're trying to move beyond consultation.
9:55 If you talk to irrigation communities,
9:57 they pale-- individuals-- visibly
10:01 at the prospect of being consulted
10:03 with [INAUDIBLE] being consulted with by our government
10:07 yet again.
10:08 Consultation strikes them, usually, as a one-way process.
10:11 So we're trying to talk about engagement and participation.
10:14 And although I, legally, have the responsibility to make
10:17 the decisions, we're trying to move towards a practise with
10:20 local communities where they're interested,
10:22 and not all of them are.
10:24 Many of them will say to me, David,
10:25 I don't care what you do with the environmental water,
10:28 as long as you don't bother me and you don't injure
10:30 my practise.
10:32 And others want to be heavily involved.
10:34 So we've got a spectrum to deal.
10:36 For those who want to be involved,
10:37 we want to offer a system where they can influence my decision
10:42 And that, in broad terms, is what I'm calling localism.
10:48 I'm just going to do some adaptive management
10:50 of my slides here, because the chairman's told me
10:53 I've only got four or five minutes to go.
10:55 I'm not going to go through this slide.
10:57 This is a demonstration of the broad approach
10:59 that we bring to adaptive management, which
11:01 is about demand and supply, so ecological demand,
11:05 those environmental assets-- the rivers,
11:07 the flood plains, the wetlands-- where are they in their cycle;
11:10 how much water do they need, and how much water they've got.
11:12 And this document is simply demonstrating that,
11:16 as you would expect sensibly, when ecological demand is high,
11:19 and water availability is low, then
11:21 we manage those assets and the water
11:24 that we deliver in a very different way.
11:27 So this is my final point.
11:28 I wanted to talk to you in any detail.
11:30 I wanted to give you two examples
11:32 of adaptive management.
11:34 Don't be intimidated by this hydrograph.
11:37 Let me walk you through it very briefly.
11:43 I've just got to get myself into a position
11:44 where I can use this pointer.
11:46 So the river Murray flows immediately
11:51 downstream from the Hume Dame.
11:53 And on the left axis, you've got flows.
11:57 Don't worry about the numbers.
11:58 It's really trying to demonstrate how
12:01 with managed water-- water that we own and hold
12:05 and can manage-- we are trying to mimic natural flows.
12:09 So if you look at the graph, the top line
12:12 is what's described as the approximate Yarrawonga
12:15 modelled natural flow.
12:16 So that is based on MDBA data held over a long time.
12:21 What would the river flow on average look
12:23 like if there were no dams?
12:25 That's the blue line up on top.
12:28 The dashed orange line is the release
12:30 without [INAUDIBLE] water.
12:31 So that's the water coming out of the dam
12:32 for operational purposes, either to supply irrigation
12:35 or other needs.
12:37 Then you've got the blue line in the middle.
12:39 That's environmental watering.
12:41 So that's essentially largely commonwealth
12:43 environmental water at this stage.
12:44 And so you can see the difference
12:45 between the blue line that is environmental water
12:48 and the hatched line is the volume of environmental water.
12:51 Now, what I'm trying to show here
12:53 is that we're trying to mimic nature.
12:55 So you can see in the southern connected basin,
12:58 winter dependent rainfall-- you get a natural flow in winter
13:03 after the rains have fallen, then a subsequent peak,
13:06 and then it tails off.
13:08 And you can see we're trying to mimic
13:10 that sort of natural flow, because, as is self-evident
13:15 if you think about it, the biota that
13:16 is dependent-- water-dependent biodiversity, which
13:20 is one of my main outcomes-- of course
13:23 has adapted to that natural flow regime.
13:24 And by regulating the system, we've changed everything.
13:27 We've reversed the flow systems.
13:29 We've changed the temperature.
13:30 We changed volumes.
13:32 And so I'm trying to set some naturalness back into it.
13:34 Notice I don't say that we're trying to restore nature,
13:37 because we can't.
13:39 We're attempted to insert some natural patterns back in.
13:43 And without, again, going into detail,
13:45 this is a nice example of how adaptive management has
13:47 to take account of reality.
13:49 So over here we adjust our flow rates
13:54 because we need to accommodate firewood collection in some
13:57 of the forests that we're trying to water.
13:59 So there are all those sorts of practical limitations
14:02 on what we can do.
14:03 I'm going to be very quick, because I
14:05 know I'm going to run out of time shortly.
14:06 So I'm going to run you through the next example, which
14:08 is a series of three hydrographs reflecting
14:12 what we've done over a three years in the Goulburn River.
14:15 Now, this is a sequence of how adaptive management really
14:18 works, where what you wanted to do in year one didn't work,
14:23 but you learned from it.
14:24 And so over time we've changed the watering in the Goulburn
14:29 to get out of it what we want.
14:31 Now, again, it looks slightly complicated,
14:33 but it's flows on the left axis, time on the bottom axis,
14:37 environmental waters that sort of purple colour.
14:40 The big blue is natural flows.
14:42 And then the little blue is operational flows.
14:45 But that's not really what I want to concentrate so much on,
14:49 as showing you the progression over three years of what
14:52 we've done.
14:53 Now, our ambition here was to get golden perch
14:56 to breed-- an endangered native fish that's
14:58 been much challenged by regulation--
15:02 and also to do something about bank slumping
15:04 by getting the flows right to induce vegetation growth.
15:09 So we put what we call a pulse.
15:11 There's a pulse.
15:12 There's another pulse.
15:14 And then we monitor what we get.
15:15 And you can see in this first year that a number of things
15:18 First of all, no golden perch spawning.
15:20 So that's see outcome we wanted.
15:22 We didn't get it.
15:23 So we had to go away and think about-- talk to the locals
15:25 about-- why that was happening.
15:26 Second thing you might notice, again,
15:28 managing in the real world, we put a fresh
15:31 down the system that coincided with the opening of the cod
15:34 season and got into a lot of trouble,
15:36 because it ruined the cod season opening in Goulburn.
15:39 So we needed to think about the environment in which we
15:42 were working.
15:44 One minute-- I can get through two slides in a minute.
15:46 So next year, so again the same colour-- you can see that,
15:52 again, because we know that the golden perch's response
15:55 to pulses of fresh water-- so there's the fresh.
15:58 But this time we've left a gap in between the two freshes
16:01 so that the cod season is not impacted.
16:04 We had community concerns about access to pumps.
16:08 And we put in another pulse later
16:10 in the year for vegetation.
16:12 And we got, in this year, golden perch spawning,
16:17 so the beginnings of success.
16:19 The final year-- '14-'15-- again,
16:23 we modify it based on what we learn.
16:26 Two freshes, a gap in between so that the irrigators can
16:30 have access to their pumps, we finish that fresh before cod
16:33 opening so we're not interfering with cod opening.
16:36 We put another fresh in for vegetation.
16:38 And we got a huge response from golden perch-- the biggest
16:43 spawning response since the natural floods of 2010.
16:47 So this is very much simplified-- I
16:50 must admit-- demonstration that we are attempting
16:53 to utilise the principles of adaptive management in the way
16:58 that we are managing the Commonwealth Environmental
17:00 Water Holding.
17:02 And I think on that note, I'll leave it be.