Water Matters - Issue 45, April 2018

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Your Lake Eyre Basin, your say

Have your say on issues affecting the basin and its wildlife.

Australia is home to one of the largest unaltered water systems in the world, the Lake Eyre Basin.

Individuals and organisations in Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales are being encouraged to have their say on issues affecting this important resource.

According to Richard McLoughlin, Assistant Secretary Water Resources at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the basin provides water to the communities in a large portion of central Australia.

‘The review of the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement will assist governments to identify on-the-ground issues affecting the basin, such as water quality, research and monitoring, river flows and natural resources,’ Mr McLoughlin said.


Continue reading about your Lake Eyre Basin, your say

The Lake Eyre Basin is an important resource for communities across Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

The intergovernmental agreement was established in 2000 between the national, Queensland and South Australian governments, with Northern Territory signing on in 2004. It provides for the adoption of policies and strategies to avoid, where possible, cross-border impacts.

The agreement currently applies to:

  • the Cooper Creek systems, including the Thomson and Barcoo Rivers
  • the Georgina and Diamantina River systems within Queensland and South Australia, ending at Lake Eyre
  • the Northern Territory portion of the basin.

How to get involved

The consultation process began on 23 March 2018 and closes on 2 May 2018.

In addition to making a submission, you can participate in stakeholder and regional meetings being held in Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane and Longreach.

To find out more, including how to participate, visit Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement, or contact the Lake Eyre Basin Secretariat at LEB Secretariat.


Award-winning project helps reinvigorate River Murray

Raising weir pools has reinvigorated floodplain vegetation in the lower River Murray. Image courtesy South Australian Department for Environment and Water.

Most native plants and animals along the River Murray rely on regular changing water levels to be healthy, diverse and abundant.

Raising and lowering of weir pools helps to restore a more natural wetting and drying cycle.

It’s also another way the South Australian Government, with funding from the Australian Government, is contributing to the Murray-Darling Basin plan.

The Weir Pool Manipulation Project has successfully raised water levels in the lower River Murray since 2014, and received an Australian Water Association Environmental Improvement Award at the 2017 Smart Water Awards.

Changing water levels counteracts the reduction in hydrology variability over the years that had weakened the river’s seasonal cycle of productivity, often called the ‘spring pulse’.


Continue reading about award-winning project helps reinvigorate River Murray

The next phase in the project is to continue to return this natural variability by lowering the weir pools. This will improve the health and resilience of the river to the benefit of the many Australians who use the lower River Murray for irrigation, boating, fishing and tourism.

According to Weir Pool Manipulation Project Manager at the South Australian Department for Environment and Water, Dan Hanisch, the first project phase of raising water levels has had positive outcomes for groundwater salinity, vegetation condition and food webs.

‘We found we were freshening the groundwater up to 50 metres from the water's edge,’ Dr Hanisch said.

‘This benefited floodplain vegetation through vigorous growth and a larger range of understorey species.

‘We also saw a positive response in what is called biofilm—the slimy stuff that grows on submerged logs and other river material. It temporarily changed from an algae base to a bacteria base, which is a more nutritious food source for aquatic invertebrates and small fish.

‘This filters up the food chain to birds, larger fish and frogs, and we saw birds in huge numbers at some of the wetlands,’ he said.

Based on the significant environmental gains, there is agreement on the need for water variability, and the project has received great community support.

Environmental Pathways Manager at the South Australian Department for Environment and Water, Tumi Bjornsson, says a focus of the project will be on assessing how weir pool changes impact landowners, and considering any issues raised by river users.

‘Through continued communication and partnership of government, business and community, it is hoped that the “pulse” of the lower Murray can keep regaining some of its old strength,’ Mr Bjornsson said.

For more information or to get involved, visit the Weir Pool Manipulation project website.


World's largest water event tackles 'sharing water'

The 8th World Water Forum succeeded in putting a greater international focus on water.

The 8th World Water Forum held in Brazil last month—aligning with World Water Day—called on leaders in the water sector to consider how to sustainably manage and share water for the benefit of all life on Earth.

Some 120,000 people from 172 different countries attended the forum which, according to the World Water Council, achieved its goal of bringing water ‘to the top of political and society's agenda’.

Mary Colreavy, Assistant Secretary Water Recovery Branch, was at the forum representing the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

According to Ms Colreavy, the event succeeded in putting a greater international focus on water and encouraging cross-country collaboration on the sustainable management of water.


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Mary Colreavy representing the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources at the World Water Forum in Brazil.

‘Australia is keen to continue to work with other nations to develop new ways to meet the forum’s mission—namely to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning, management and use of water in all its dimensions, on an environmentally-sustainable basis, for the benefit of all life,’ she said.

A key event at the conference was that of the High-Level Panel on Water, at which the report Making every drop count: an agenda for water action was presented.

The High-Level Panel on Water was convened by the United Nations Secretary General and the World Bank President in 2016 to bring expertise and political weight to the challenge of implementing Sustainable Development Goal 6, to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’, and other water-related Sustainable Development Goals.

Australia played a prominent role in the High-Level Panel on Water, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull being one of the 11 sitting heads of state and government on the panel.

Australia is considered a world leader on water policy, having largely met its Sustainable Development Goal 6 commitments around access to safe water and sanitation, and sound management of freshwater ecosystems.

Australia’s active participation in water reform, and initiatives on water data, water use efficiency and innovation, were widely recognised at the event.

Australia’s country statement, presented at the forum by Australia’s Ambassador to Brazil, John Richardson, highlighted our challenge to balance social, economic and environmental concerns while managing and providing access to water. This includes water for drinking and sanitation; for rural and urban communities; for public amenity and cultural purposes; for farming and food production; and for mining and other industry uses.

Australia’s country statement also highlighted to forum participants that although most of the publicly-promoted images of Australia reflect our beautiful beaches, tropical rainforests and coral reefs, the reality is that Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth.

This means that water in Australia is a scarce and valuable resource.

It also means that responding to water scarcity and a highly variable climate is a part of everyday life in Australia.

Australia well-represented at forum

Australian representation at the forum included local embassy staff as well as officials from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (Mary Colreavy); Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Tony Slatyer, Celina Smith, John Dore); the Bureau of Meteorology (Rob Argent); and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (Carl Binning).

Experts from CSIRO, the private sector and Australian universities also participated in and presented conference sessions.

The Australia Water Partnership (AWP) coordinated a booth at the Exposition Hall to promote Australian water management, the Australian Aid Program, AWP, and Australia’s contribution to the High-Level Panel on Water.

The booth attracted more than 600 visitors interested in Australia’s work on water scarcity, water markets and pricing, water-sensitive design, desalination, and postgraduate study opportunities.

For more on the World Water Forum, visit the forum website, which includes copies of all major documents released at the event.


Murray-Darling Basin farm survey underway

Irrigators are being asked to participate in the annual irrigation industry survey. Photo by Joshua Smith.

Growers and landholders across the Murray-Darling Basin are participating in the annual irrigation industry survey.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resources and Economic Sciences (ABARES) is conducting face-to-face interviews with growers from a variety of irrigated farm enterprises in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. This covers growers of vegetable crops, tree and vine crops, pastures for grazing, hay, rice, cotton, cereals and oilseed crops.

This survey will provide up-to-date information for government, industry and producers on the production and economic structure of irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin, to help target research and development and assist in industry planning.

ABARES officers will contact eligible farm businesses to arrange a convenient interview time on the farm. The2018 surveys have been running since February and will continue until the end of May.

The survey is being funded by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

Continue reading about Murray-Darling Basin farm survey underway

According to ABARES Executive Director Dr Steve Hatfield-Dodds, ABARES has been conducting farm surveys on behalf of the Australian Government for more than 30 years.

‘The survey data have informed the development of long-term plans to guide the future of our primary industries,’ Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.

‘Farm surveys have provided a broad range of information on current and historical economic performance of Australian farm businesses to producers, industry and governments and support informed on-farm decision making and policy development,’ he said.

To see the previous survey results, visit the ABARES surveys or publications pages.

All information provided will remain confidential and survey findings will not identify individuals or their businesses.


Australia leads the world in water efficiency

Australia’s progress on water efficiency labelling is leading the world.

Australia will be spearheading an international effort to help consumers choose water-efficient whitegoods and plumbing fixtures, and to enable manufacturers to compete on a global scale.

Australia has secured international support to establish a new International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) project committee on water efficiency.

The ISO Technical Management Board Secretariat voted in favour of Australia’s world-leading water efficiency proposal in February 2018.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of Standards Australia, Dr Bronwyn Evans, the outcome is ‘another example of Australia leading the efforts of international standard development to address a global problem’.

The new Australian-led committee will facilitate the development of a new international standard on water efficiency labelling, using as a base the Australian Standard AS/NZS 6400, Water efficient products—rating and labelling.

Continue reading about Australia leads the world in water efficiency

‘Many will be familiar with the star rating on water products, but the benefit of this labelling standard goes further than clearly outlining water efficiency on products for Australian consumers,’ said Dr Evans.

‘The support of the Federal Government and the work of Standards Australia will enable Australian manufacturers to compete internationally, as well as playing a role in a more water efficient future.’

The Water Efficiency and Labelling Standards Regulator in the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Mr Paul Morris, said Australia’s progress on water efficiency labelling was leading the world.

‘The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme has been very effective at conserving water in Australia and is highly regarded internationally,’ Mr Morris said.

‘By 2021, the use of water-efficient products will help reduce domestic water use by an estimated 150,000 million litres each year—enough water to fill 60,000 Olympic swimming pools,’ he said.

‘And in the same year, Australians will save more than one billion dollars through reduced water and energy bills.

‘An International Standard will help other countries obtain similar water savings and, at the same time, benefit Australian consumers and manufacturers by reducing manufacturing costs,’ he said.

Work will continue in coming months to establish the committee and to make progress internationally towards the international standard.


Murray-Darling water markets in good shape to deal with drought

New research shows greater demand for water to grow cotton crops in Australia.

Increased demand for water for some crops such as almonds and cotton in the southern Murray-Darling Basin is being more than offset by decreased water demand for other crops such as pastures and rice.

This is according to new research released by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) in March in the Australian Water Markets Report 2016-17.

According to ABARES Assistant Secretary in charge of farm performance and forestry, David Galeano, there has been a reduction in the overall supply of water, with more than 2000 gigalitres of entitlement recovered for environmental purposes. However, he says the development of water markets has left the southern Murray-Darling Basin in a good position to manage climate variability and to take advantage of new opportunities.

‘ABARES modelling suggests that under a rerun of the Millennium drought, water market prices would be no higher than the peaks observed in 2007−08, due to more flexible carryover rules and reduced underlying water demand for opportunity crops such as irrigated pastures,’ Mr Galeano said.

‘Since the last drought, changes to carryover rules have resulted in larger volumes of water being stored in dams between years, which leaves producers better positioned to manage dry periods,’ he said.

‘While water market reforms in the region have been successful, there remains some room for improvement to carryover rules and trade restrictions.

‘Given the hydrology of the southern Murray-Darling Basin, some trade restrictions will always be necessary.

‘But in the future it is going to be increasingly important to move more water efficiently across catchments and commodities, to ensure changing water demands continue to be met,’ he said.


In other water news issued from the Australian Government:

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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