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Monitoring and evaluation for the use of Commonwealth environmental water

Overview

Monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement are critical components of natural resource management programs, particularly in highly variable natural systems where the outcomes from environmental watering actions can be uncertain. Monitoring and reporting activities support the efficient and effective use of resources, promote accountability, support adaptive management and help build knowledge.

Requirements and legislative obligations

The Water Act 2007 and the Murray Darling Basin Plan outline specific monitoring, evaluation and reporting requirements that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder must comply with.

Water Act 2007

The Water Act requires an annual report on the management of Commonwealth environmental water be provided to the Commonwealth Water Minister, to be tabled in each House of Parliament and given to relevant State Ministers for each of the Basin States (section 114(1)). The report must include information on achievements against the objectives of the Basin Plan’s Environmental Watering Plan (section 114(2a)).

Murray Darling Basin Plan

The Basin Plan places a number of obligations on the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder with respect to monitoring, evaluation and reporting, including to:

  • report annually to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority on the identification of environmental water and the monitoring of its use (Basin Plan Schedule 12, item 9)
  • report every five years to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority on the achievement of environmental outcomes at a Basin scale, by reference to the targets to measure progress towards the environmental objectives in Schedule 7 (Basin Plan Schedule 12, item 7 ).

Monitoring and evaluating Commonwealth environmental water

Monitoring and evaluation is a critical component of the effective and efficient use of Commonwealth environmental water and is incorporated into the way environmental water is managed. To guide Commonwealth Environmental Water Office monitoring and evaluation activities, and to ensure we are aligning with, and fulfilling, legislative and Basin Plan obligations, the Office has developed the:

Key monitoring and evaluation activities currently in place include:

Operational monitoring

Operational monitoring is undertaken for all Commonwealth environmental watering actions and involves collecting on ground data with regard to environmental water delivery such as volumes delivered, impact on the river systems hydrograph, area of inundation and river levels. Operational monitoring is undertaken to:

  • ensure water is delivered as planned (flows, area of inundation etc)
  • provide observations of the initial ecological response (photos and local descriptions)
  • help manage unintended consequences (unintended inundation).

Intervention monitoring

Intervention monitoring aims to understand the environmental response of Commonwealth environmental watering objectives and expected outcomes.  Intervention monitoring and evaluation results are used by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office to:

  • fulfill legislative and Basin Plan reporting obligations
  • demonstrate environmental outcomes
  • improve environmental water use planning and delivery
  • build our combined knowledge of the ecological systems in which we operate.

Short term intervention monitoring

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office has been monitoring the short term ecological response of environmental water since 2010. Short term projects have focussed on determining whether selected watering actions are meeting their intended ecological objectives and understanding the implications for environmental water delivery.

All short term monitoring and evaluation reports are published at: Publications and resources

Long term intervention monitoring

Monitoring of environmental responses has been strengthened by transitioning from short (annual) to longer term (5-yearly) projects as part of the $30 million Long Term Intervention Monitoring Project.

Under this Project, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office has engaged consortium teams, lead by Australia’s leading research institutions, and involving locally based land and water managers, to develop and implement detailed 5-year monitoring and evaluation plans for selected areas within the Basin. 

More information on the Long Term Intervention Monitoring Project can be found at: Long Term Intervention Monitoring Project

Knowledge and Research

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office is also investing $10 million under the Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Water Knowledge and Research Project to improve the best science information available to support the evolving needs of environmental water managers.

This Project is being designed to improve our understanding of the complex ecological systems in which environmental water is managed. The research outcomes are expected to make a significant contribution to the ability to assess and understand incremental changes in ecological condition in the medium- to long-term within the context of multiple management interventions, stressors and pressures.

More information on the Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Water Knowledge and Research Project can be found at: Environmental Water Knowledge and Research

Environmental Monitoring and Evaluation under the Basin Plan

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office is not the only agency investing in environmental monitoring and evaluation activities under the Basin Plan. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office has designed its monitoring program to complement existing and proposed monitoring programs.

The Basin Plan sets out reporting obligations and principles for undertaking environmental monitoring and evaluation for state and Commonwealth agencies. When viewed together, these provisions broadly confer the following responsibilities:

  • Murray-Darling Basin Authority is responsible for reporting on the achievement of the environmental objectives of the Basin Plan at a Basin scale. As reflected in the Basin Plan principles, this means that the Murray Darling Basin Authority has a key role in coordinating monitoring and evaluation activities across the Basin.
  • Basin States are responsible for reporting on the achievement of environmental objectives of the Basin Plan at an asset scale (via long-term environmental watering plans). Together with regional natural resource management agencies the States have valuable on-ground knowledge and experience of particular ecosystem characteristics as well as the capacity to deliver, monitor and evaluate watering events efficiently and effectively.
  • Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is responsible for reporting on the contribution of Commonwealth environmental water to the environmental objectives of the Basin Plan.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority, Basin States, the scientific community, local groups and others have existing environmental water and aquatic health monitoring and evaluation programs and strategies in place. As summarised below, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office will continue to work with the Murray Darling Basin Authority, state agencies, research organisations, regional organisations, local groups and others, such as landholders to collect and collate relevant monitoring information that facilitates evaluation and reporting of the use of water under the Basin Plan.

Overall basin plan outcomes - Ecological response timeframe over 5 years

There are clear benefits to working cooperatively on environmental monitoring and evaluation and aligning those activities at the Basin, regional and local levels. It will be important to ensure that the maximum value from existing monitoring and evaluation programs is maintained, and the historical results of these programs are used effectively. As the Basin Plan is implemented, there will be a need to integrate with broader jurisdictional frameworks for natural resource management.