Our National Conference begins in Wentworth in under a month’s time. We will see people from right across the Basin, come together at the junction of the Murray and the Darling Rivers, to explore a number of key themes affecting their communities.
The Barka/Darling River, where we will be meeting for our 77th National Conference and AGM, is a significant site when considering what success in achieving a healthy, connected system actually looks like. It is the end of the Barwon-Darling system, downstream of the site of the devastating fish kills that occurred in the Menindee Lakes in 2019, now spilling over with fresh flows. Our study group will tour the Menindee Lakes and Pooncarie, looking to understand - through observation - the challenges this community and their governments are facing in how to manage their particular part of the system and restore regular, reliable, connective flows.
Although the headline theme of the conference is Collaboration - Connecting Catchments and Communities, I know the focus will be on the sub-theme which is the real challenge facing Basin governments, communities and Basin ecosystems all together. And that challenge is what does a healthy connected system truly look like? What needs to happen to achieve this health and is it indeed possible? If it is possible, is it even possible under current circumstances?
These are big questions our communities need to contemplate, and we know our conference will give our members the time, space and opportunity to begin this reflective work.
We know that the Basin plan was introduced to restore the integrity of a healthy, working sustainable system. Communities across the Basin - individuals, farming enterprises, local businesses, industries - have all had to share in the disruption that is consequential to the recovery of a significant amount of water back into the system for restoration. Now is an important time to reflect and review on how we are tracking on our goal to health and access for all. Although there have already been many reports and inquiries to see how we are tracking, the measure of our success has to be in the actual restoration of the systems, both catchments and communities.
Our conference is timely, enabling our members to amplify these discussions around analysis of success.
In order to restore a healthy connected system, we need to establish an end of system and valley specific flow targets. By “end of system”, from the top of the Northern Basin to Wentworth. We then need to go to the marketplace to receive an independent assessment and determination on what those targets should be, on the conditions under which they can be met and - to assess if reliable, consistent end of system flows are, in fact, achievable.
A key aim of our conference in Wentworth will be to deeply explore the issue of end of system and valley targets and begin the advocacy for the independent work required to inform the next steps.
An independent assessment such as this is a significant one. It is a body of work that must be done by the best available science, and it must be independent; and it must draw on local knowledge and Basin-scale objectives. It must be done frankly and with a full assessment of all the circumstances that may be required to reach these targets.
Once the work of establishing end of system and valley specific flow targets, and of independently assessing the circumstances under which such targets can be achived is done - then, and only then can Basin communities and governments collaborate to connect catchments and communities.