Basin meeting in Dubbo

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority's chief executive officer Dr Rhondda Dickson takes part in yesterday's open house. Photo:Belinda Soole
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority's chief executive officer Dr Rhondda Dickson takes part in yesterday's open house. Photo:Belinda Soole

STAFF of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority have waded into calmer waters in Dubbo, where their advice has not been drowned out by a vocal crowd fearful for the future.

The authority’s “open house” yesterday was a far cry from the loud and angst-ridden public meeting it staged in the city 16 months ago.

About 1000 irate and upset Macquarie Valley residents converged on Dubbo Regional Theatre and Convention Centre (DRTCC) in early November 2010, where the majority made it clear that the guide to the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan was not acceptable.

Yesterday they came in dozens, not hundreds, to sit at four round tables in the DRTCC foyer, and ask technical questions about the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan with authority staff.

There was plenty of noise but no shouting at the event preceded by private talks between the authority’s chief executive officer Dr Rhondda Dickson and people who “live and breathe water management”, according to an authority staffer.

They included representatives of Warren and Narromine shire councils, Macquarie River Food and Fibre, floodplain graziers, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and State Water.

“As you would expect, there were different views and opinions,” Dr Dickson said.

“But... people wanted to get the plan settled to remove uncertainty.”

Dr Dickson said the 90-minute open house was not only of benefit to the public.

“We hope out of this one that we get the views of as many different people as we can,” she said.

“There’s a lot of people with a very deep knowledge and understanding of how water works in their region and what the issues are. It is really good to have an opportunity to hear from them and for them to ask some really detailed questions.”

Warren Mayor Rex Wilson was seen deep in conversation with Dr Dickson as the open house got underway.

He has publicly called for another audit of the basin’s river system so recent post-drought data can inform the draft plan.

Dr Dickson responded with advice that another audit, based on data collected up until a year ago, was set to be released in 2012.

“What’s happened in the last two years is similar to the other floods that we’ve had in the past. All of the modelling and work we’ve done in coming up with our estimated diversion limit is based on what’s happened in past floods and past droughts,” she said.

The draft plan proposes 2750 gigalitres of water be returned to the environment, much of it from communities at the the southern end of the basin.

It identifies the Macquarie region’s sustainable diversion limit (SDL) as 669 gigalitres, down from the 2009 figure of 734.

The authority has confirmed that water returned to the environment since then covers the gap of 65 gigalitres.

The SDL is the amount of water that the authority believes can be taken from the basin without impacting on its health.

Dr Dickson yesterday said “good management” of water across many decades had saved the valley from further cuts.

Dr Dickson said the authority would encourage submissions on the draft plan up to April 16.