As parts of Australia are gripped by their seventh floods in a year, one of the country’s chief water bosses has warned that another drought will soon arrive.
On the 10th anniversary of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, chief executive Andrew McConville said the plan – introduced in response to the “Millennium Drought” – would ensure water was set aside for critical needs during future droughts.
Daily inflows this month were seven times the long-term average, due to flooding in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
But he warned that climate change could lead to rivers losing 30 per cent of their water.
“There are two certainties. One is climate change – we know the climate is changing,” he told the National Press Club in an address.
“The CSIRO has delivered several plausible scenarios that describe the changing climate on our rivers and groundwater systems. Under the most probable scenario, rainfall would decrease by 10 per cent by 2050 compared with the historical climate of the basin.
“River flows could fall by 30 per cent per cent. That’s 30 per cent less water in our rivers. The science tells us we face an uncertain future and that managing for more extreme events will be essential.
“None of us can do the things we have always done in the same way and expect the same results.”
He said the other certainty was that the authority must “deal First Nations people into water management in a real and meaningful way”.
Mr McConville – who until last year was the head of oil and gas lobby APPEA – said he knew the authority “very, very clearly” had more work to do.
“We are working hard on climate change in the context of the basin plan and a whole raft of other things, and I think it’s important that we bring people along on that journey,” he said.
“That’s what I’ve had a career in, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Earlier, Water Minister Tanya Plibersek said on the 10th anniversary of the plan that it remained “the most important piece of water policy” in Australian history.
“The basin plan was born out of desperation, not out of choice, when we faced this continent at its most savage and unforgiving,” she wrote in an opinion piece.
“A lot has changed in the last 10 years … But we know that as long as we live on this land, dry years will inevitably follow wet years, which is why the basin plan continues to guide our management of Australia’s most important natural resource.
“While the plan can be frustrating, life would be a whole lot worse if it didn’t exist.”
At this year’s election, Labor committed to delivering the plan in full – a commitment now reaffirmed by every state and territory.
“If we can all communicate … then I know we can deliver this plan while supporting everyone who relies on the river system for their life and livelihood,” she said.