South Australian Water Minister Susan Close looks back on 2023

South Australian Deputy Premier and Minister for Climate, Environment and Water Susan Close has looked back on 2023. She has considered the achievements with a forward look into 2024.

This year has been among the most significant for water and water policy in South Australia, with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on track and many river communities still dealing with the aftermath of a once-in-a-generation flood.

The Restoring Our Rivers Bill, which recently passed the Federal Parliament, will significantly help to ensure there is enough water in the river system for irrigators, for communities and for the environment. A healthy working Murray-Darling Basin is our collective goal.

Among a number of provisions within the Bill, it allows for voluntary water buybacks from willing sellers to recover the 450 gigalitres of environmental flows promised under the Plan but not yet delivered.

The 450GL is the bare minimum scientific advice dictates the river needs in dry periods to remain viable.

And while some within the water industry oppose voluntary buybacks, a Royal Commission into the River Murray found that arguments that buybacks hurt communities are not supported by peer reviewed economic research.

What has been established is that buying water is cheaper for governments, money earned is largely spent locally, that most farmers only sell part of their rights, that farmers use profits to reduce their debt burden and that water purchases provide greater certainty than other measures.

In the event there are any legitimate impacts on communities, the Commonwealth Government has set aside $20 million for South Australian communities as part of the revitalised Plan.

Flood recovery, wetlands and irrigation for South Australian water users

Last year’s flood, which took a heavy toll on river communities, simultaneously had an incredibly positive impact on the health of the River Murray.

The Chowilla wetlands near the juncture of the three state borders are bursting with bird, aquatic and other animal life, and the Coorong’s southern lagoon is less saline and has more fish than at any other time since the Millennium Drought.

It meant irrigators were able to start the financial year with 100 per cent of their allocations for the third consecutive year.

But with long-term forecasts predicting hotter, drier weather, we know the good times won’t last. An indicator of this is that just last month, we had to resume dredging the Murray Mouth for the first time since the floods.

It is, therefore, imperative that Basin states, irrigators and other stakeholders continue to work together so the River Murray can continue to sustain farming, drinking water requirements and the environment.

Finally, after what has been a challenging 12 months for many in the water industry, I sincerely hope everyone gets some downtime to spend with family and friends over the coming weeks.

Susan Close MP

SA Minister for Climate, Environment and Water

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