The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MDBMC) implemented a Cap on all water diversions effective June 1997. The Cap was seen as an essential first step in implementing a more sustainable flow regime. However, it is recognised that further work is required to establish management systems that will: - maintain and, where possible, improve existing flow regimes to protect and enhance the riverine environment; and - achieve sustainable consumptive use by developing and managing the water resources of the River Murray system to meet ecological, commercial and social needs. The next step is the development of a flow management plan for the major river systems which will maximise environmental benefits whilst meeting the general requirements of existing users. These flow management plans will recognise that improving river health is not just a matter of improving flow regimes but may require complementary activities. A key issue to be resolved before a flow management plan could be developed for the River Murray system was the establishment of environmental flow regimes for the River Murray and the lower Darling River. The MDBMC Water Policy Committee considered that the most effective way to proceed with the establishment of environmental flow regimes would be to review the adequacy of current flow regimes by the use of a Scientific Panel. The Scientific Panel approach is a rapid appraisal of the environmental condition and requirements of the riverine ecosystem by a multi-disciplinary team with local and scientific expertise. Advice provided by the Scientific Panel would be considered by the MDBMC and contribute to the development of a Flow Management Strategy for the River Murray and to negotiations with the States on the actions necessary to implement the cap. The Scientific Panel method has been successfully employed in Australia on other large river systems, for example along the Darling River in Queensland and New South Wales (Thoms et al. 1996), and the Snowy River in Victoria (Erskine et al. 1996). First derived in Australia following on from the work in South Africa on the Building Blocks procedure (King and Louw 1998), it employs a sound scientific method to provide a range of recommendations on environmental flows to water resource managers. The method is recommended in situations that require a relatively rapid appraisal and recommendations for water management (Burgess and Thoms 1997).
MDFRC funding agency: Murray-Darling Basin Commission (The River Murray Scientific Panel)