A recent Bill to amend the Water Act 2007 will strengthen compliance and enforcement, providing power to an independent Inspector General for Water Compliance to impose penalties for water theft and illegal water trading offences. The amendments laid out in the Bill also stipulate that no further water be taken when the basin plan concludes in 2024. Other proposals to legislate against Commonwealth buy backs from irrigators and to remove the requirement that 450GL of water be returned to the environment were rejected. The news was generally welcomed by downstream irrigators who consider that the 450GL of efficiency measures remain vital to maintaining the health of the river for the benefit of South Australia’s sustainable water supply. Technical amendments to strengthening transparency relating to the water market will also be made as a result of the new Bill.
The recent announcements coincide with reducing price pressure for water across the southern Murray Darling Basin off the back of improved inflows throughout 2020–21 and greater the volumes of water in storages since the previous season. According to ABARES outlook for water allocation, prices are forecast to remain low in 2021–22, with the significant volume of carryover water likely to keep prices below 2019–20 levels even in the extreme dry scenario.