THERE is an opportunity, now, for state governments to make every drop of Murray-Darling Basin water count while looking after the long-term prosperity of people and industry, and caring for river environs.

That was one of the big ‘take aways’ from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) River Reflections conference that concluded in Mildura late last week.

Delegates to the summit heard from a number of high-profile guest speakers, including executives from the MDBA and chair Sir Angus Houston during the two-day event held at the Mildura’s Quality Grand Hotel.

MDBA acting CEO, Andrew Reynolds told those attending that there is now “an opportunity to make every drop count; to look after the long-term prosperity of regional communities and industries while caring for our river country”.

“These critical final stages of the Basin Plan are a once-in-a-generation chance to improve the rules around river management, and to allow water to move through the system more freely – in ways that would benefit people along the river as well as the river environment we rely on,” Mr Reynolds said.

“Prior to the Basin Plan, for 100 years, the Murray River was essentially managed as a pipeline to support towns and agriculture.

“Of course, we all know a river is more than a pipeline.

“It lives and breathes and connects with its floodplain and the people who have relied on life-giving water for tens of thousands of years.

“That’s why we’re encouraging everyone to push forward with the projects that will bring this chance to life as part of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM).”

Basin state governments came up with a suite of 36 projects to achieve environmental outcomes with less water.

“These SDLAM projects are critically important to achieve the environmental outcomes of the Basin Plan,” Mr Reynolds said.

“These critically important projects will achieve the environmental outcomes of the Basin Plan, using less water.”

Delegates at the conference also heard about the impacts of the massive sand slug in the Barmah-Millewa reach of the Murray River and the consequences to water users, the environment and local community if no action is taken to address it.

The Barmah-Millewa reach is the narrowest section of the river that runs through the Barmah-Millewa Forest near Echuca and Deniliquin in the mid-Murray region. Capacity has reduced from 11,300 ML/day in the 1980s to 9,200 GL per day today.

Independent experts in fluvial geomorphology, stream management and river research have been gradually surveying the riverbed during the past 18 months and estimate 20 million cubic metres of sand is on the riverbed between Yarrawonga and Picnic Point.

MDBA director of River Murray Operations Tyson Milne addressed delegates telling them that the sand was largely caused by land-use practices and mining in the rivers upstream centuries ago.

“We are talking about 13 Melbourne Cricket Grounds full of sand which is quite phenomenal,” Mr Milne said.

“There is no silver bullet to this complex problem and the ecological, cultural, economic and community implications of any course of action are being considered.

“Within 10 years, the build-up of sand in the Barmah-Millewa reach will have a major impact on our ability to deliver water downstream.”

The MDBA’s chair Sir Angus Houston spoke to the conference saying he felt privileged to have engaged with the people he had met in the Murray-Darling Basin communities and to have gained an insight of this critical part of our nation.

“I am delighted to play my role in its future,” Sir Angus said.

“I’ve done seven trips across the Basin, in my time as chair.

“After traversing much of it, I can truly say the Murray-Darling Basin is one of Australia’s great wonders and its wellbeing is crucial for Australia’s future – now more than ever.

“The nation’s future is where we all have a role to play.

“As leaders of your communities, industries and within government, you can move mountains.

“We must meet our challenges head on, and we must do this together.”

Sir Angus said that as the authority overseeing the Basin’s water resources, the job of the MDBA is to uphold the promise of a healthy river system, successful businesses, and resilient communities.

He also referenced the global challenge of water management.

“We have come a long way, and we’re not alone in our challenge,” he said.

“In southern California, on the first day of summer, the most severe water restrictions came into effect due to a ‘megadrought’.

Water use must be cut by 35 per cent, affecting six million people.

“Meanwhile, we have seen the opposite here in Australia.

“From droughts to flooding rains.

“Our dams and lakes are at their fullest since Dartmouth Dam was built in 1979.

“That turnaround is quite astonishing.”

Sir Angus said that as a world-leading water reform, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s intent is to restore the balance between the water we take and what the environment needs to sustain us all.

“Much has been achieved, but it’s been hard, particularly for communities whose economies are intrinsically linked to irrigation.”

PICTURED: Director river Murray operations Tyson Milne.