Basin ministers agree to feasibility study to improve capacity of Barmah Choke

By Rodney Woods

Greater transparency, limits on inter-valley trades, the benefits of investing in off-farm projects and ways to optimise capacity of the Barmah Choke were just some of the topics discussed at the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting on June 19.

Despite the ministers patting themselves on the back in regards to the work being done to share information about water management and markets more readily, it was agreed the effort needed to be strengthened and more co-ordinated.

“Ministers emphasised the importance of putting the user at the centre and ensuring their expectations and needs were met,” a statement following the meeting said.

“Ministers agreed to work collectively to share information and develop a single-source information portal for the Murray-Darling Basin.”

The state and federal water ministers also agreed to report to MinCo every six months on the outcomes of the assessment processes undertaken for each jurisdiction and the reports made publicly available.

With water availability still lacking, despite recent rains, Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville got her way as the Murray-Darling Basin Authority agreed to incorporate Victoria's request to limit Goulburn inter-valley trade deliveries to 40 Gl/month for summer into their operational planning for next year.

The ministers also requested that basin officials investigate and identify potential opportunities to invest in off-farm projects as a matter of priority.

In relation to the Barmah Choke, the council agreed to commission a feasibility study to explore the options to optimise its capacity and to reduce the risk of delivery shortfall in the Murray River.

“The risk of being unable to meet demand downstream of the Barmah Choke is real and increasing due to several factors, including a 20 per cent reduction in river channel capacity over the past 20 years,” the statement read.

“It impacts irrigators, regional communities and the environment.

“The feasibility study is one part of a broader suite of work across the river system to address water delivery shortfall across the southern basin, including the tributaries.

“It will build on similar reviews that have been undertaken in the past to find a cost-effective option which may be acceptable to communities.”

Governments will work with stakeholders, including communities and water authorities, to conduct the feasibility study over the next 18 months and will ensure it considers community support and concerns.