Report Chapter on Integrated Basin Management - M/BUS/235
MDFRC Technical Report
Healthy floodplains are critical for maintaining healthy rivers. Lateral exchanges of energy, water, biota and nutrients with the river channel affect the habitat, biota and metabolic functioning of both systems, with particular significance during floods. Given that healthy floodplains are critical for maintaining river and that they appear to be under threat, it is important to ensure that their management achieves the delicate balance between anthropogenic and system requirements. Achieving this balance requires system understanding, assessment of system condition and threats and coordinated management. These requirements represent significant challenges within the Murray-Darling Basin given the vast area of land and the variation in climate, landscape and land use covered by the Basin. The purpose of this chapter is to review the role of the Commission in floodplain management by assessing the coverage and adequacy of its programs and initiatives to address its objectives as they relate to floodplains. The MDBC Strategic Plan (2005-2010) sets the Commission three primary objectives: Protection and enhancement of the Basin's shared environmental assets and water resources, Efficient and equitable delivery of water for productive and sustainable domestic consumption, environmental benefit and economic use, and Delivery of high quality advice to Council, and achievement of its endorsed priorities, through strengthened capacity of the Commission and the Commission Office. A first step in achieving these objectives is defining the environmental assets. This task has been completed by a range of institutions unevenly across the MDB with a variety of floodplain, wetland, floral and faunal assets identified. The task is however, far from complete and this represents an impediment to the development of sustainable management practices. The next step would be to develop a reference condition for the identified assets. In most instances there is limited data available from which to develop reference conditions for different floodplain environmental assets. A brief review of data held by the MDBC reveals that there is a general paucity of data for floodplain condition and that the available data is often fragmented. However, more intensive assessments have been made for icon sites of the Living Murray Initiative supporting the general notion that floodplains are in poor condition with ‘no intervention' projections predicting further declines to floodplain health. The degraded condition of floodplains in the MDB can be broadly attributed to a number of threats that can be categorised as altered hydrology, climate change, landscape modification, alterations to biota and floodplain contamination. It is widely expected that the magnitude of these threats will increase in the future. In some instances the MDBC is in a strong position to assess the magnitude of the threat and its potential impact, but in some instances evaluation of the threat depends on data that is not currently available to the MDBC. The MDBC recognises the importance of knowledge to underpin management response. It is clear from this review that there is scope to synthesise and integrate the data currently collected by the MDBC to generate an improved knowledge base upon which to base assessments. This internal initiative will present a number of challenges in terms of data management and integration. Such an initiative would benefit from collaboration with other initiatives that are attempting to develop data management and integration procedures, including W.R.O.N. and A.E.O.N. Ultimately, achieving the MDBC objectives of protection of assets, water delivery and provision of advice will rely on integration MDBC programs with clear articulation of the roles of each program and management of the interactions. The MDBC currently have undertaken several initiatives to address threats to water availability including the Salinity Strategy, Algal Management Strategy, The Cap and the Risks to Shared Water resources, 3 further initiatives to address threats to environmental assets including the Native Fish Strategy, Northern Basin Strategy and TLM. Finally the MDBC has 2 programs that provide data to underpin assessment of condition, the RMWQMP and the SRA. The Risks to shared water resources provides a clear framework for addressing threats to water resources. There is no similar framework for examination of threats to environmental assets, although environmental assets are also vulnerable to hydrological alteration. Development of a risk framework for environmental assets would facilitate integrated reporting. Overall integrated reporting on floodplain assets should be aligned with the strategic objectives of water delivery, protection of environmental assets and provision of advice. The major challenge facing the MDBC in this process is the fact that, of the recognised threats to water and environmental assets only a subset will be the focus of MDBC initiatives or programs while others will remain the subject of initiatives undertaken by other government agencies, including catchment management organisations. As a consequence, not only will there need to be greater data sharing, the reporting of progress on protecting water and environmental assets would benefit from improved understanding and reference to the initiatives and strategies of other institutions.