First published in The Weekly Times, 31 July 2019

This current drought is officially the worst on record.

We need our states and territories, alongside the Australian Government, to come to the table and start collectively planning for a continued drought. We need to share the burden.

During the Millennium Drought, acidification of South Australia’s Lower Lakes gripped the nation’s attention.

I’m concerned that unless conditions improve, we are likely to see a repeat of this happening, despite all the hard work of communities and farmers who have returned over 2000 gigalitres to the environment under the Basin Plan.

It is essential that we are able to work together to understand what tools we have available to us, that involve more than just trying to keep the Lower Lakes full of freshwater during such a prolonged and severe drought.

We already know the challenges in delivering the 80,000ML/day at the South Australian border, given the constraints in the river.

It’s neither equitable nor practical to see our vulnerable communities watch as water flows past, destined for downstream communities that are not suffering from the same level of drought as those at the top here in NSW.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority has been asked to undertake further modelling to demonstrate that delivery of this target is achievable. If this target cannot realistically be achieved, this needs to be recognised now and our efforts reprioritised.

In NSW we support identifying projects that have the potential to be positive to the environment and ecology without reducing water availability or with negative socio-economic impacts.

This includes projects referred to as complementary measures, such as reducing cold water pollution from our major storages, which stifles native fish breeding.

Deliverability during this drought will mean that we need to change our attitude around seeking realistic targets, prioritising our role as long-term stewards of the Basin, and allowing sufficient time to deliver projects.

We were told from the Plan’s inception that localism and adaptive management had been hardwired into its DNA. We now need to see the evidence of how this is being implemented by the MDB Authority.

While we continue to work hard to provide relief to our communities doing it tough — particularly up north — we need to demonstrate to our communities the costs and benefits of these projects, and whether we can deliver the previously envisaged targets under the plan.

If these elements of the Basin Plan cannot realistically be delivered, we need to recognise this now to reprioritise our efforts and relieve our communities from the pressures they are under.

Additionally, we need to reaffirm our commitment to identifying new projects in the SDLAM that may deliver benefits with the least socio-economic impact.

The only way we can continue delivering the Basin Plan, is in partnership with our communities. This means shared understanding of the challenges and solutions.