New study brands Murray-Darling Basin Plan as ineffectual

Posted 3 March 2017

IrrigationNew research from the Australian National University (ANU) has found no significant progress from the $5 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) since it began in 2012. 

The research highlights the need for a rethink on Australian water policy, said Director of the ANU Centre for Water Economics Professor Quentin Grafton. 

"More than $5 billion in the past 10 years has been spent on recovering water by subsidising irrigators (on and off farm) or buying water entitlements, yet there is very little to show for it,” Grafton said.

"There has been no discernible impact in terms of reduced water use on a per-hectare basis, or in terms of reduced water diversions.”

The MDBP aimed to return 2750GL of water from irrigators back into the river system by subsidising farmers. However, it has made no significant impact on the amount of water being used, Grafton said.

"We found the average volume of water applied per hectare is virtually the same in 2014-15 as it was in 2002-03, at the onset of the Millennium Drought.”

The plan also failed to account for climate change, Grafton said, which is a drawback that could cripple the plan’s hope for significant impact in the future.

"Whatever reduced diversions are achieved over the 10 years of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, they might already be undermined by higher temperatures and a more variable climate,” Grafton said. 

The study shows that the Federal and State Governments need to reconsider their water policy, he added.

"If we are not getting reduced diversions in any meaningful way, then that's going to mean a whole range of negative implications for people that rely on the river, especially when the next drought comes."

The research was published in the journal Water Economics and Policy.