GREATER Shepparton City Council Mayor, Geoff Dobson, says the basic hard numbers in the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) upcoming draft basin plan pose a complicated, daunting and potentially devastating scenario for agricultural production, which accounts for about 50 percent of the region’s economy.
The area produces some of the nation’s leading agricultural produce including wheat and other grains, fruit and vegetables, dairy, beef, sheep and pork, with a large percentage coming through irrigated systems, reliant on Basin waters.
Integrated with that are numerous packaging and processing businesses which also help to sustain the overall community.
Mr Dobson says the Authority has a base line target of 2800 gigalitres in Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL’s), or water for environmental purposes, of which it claims 1800 gigs have already been found, with another 1000 gigs remaining.
He says whilst 1000GL “doesn’t seem like a hell of lot in the scheme of things”, that number is enough to rip the heart out of primary agricultural production within the Goulburn and Murray valleys, which have been heavily targeted in the draft plan.
“The worrying thing for us in the Goulburn valley is that when you look at the figures to say which rivers are going to be targeted, the Goulburn River seems to have a very high target rate,” he said.
“That may well be based on the fact that the State and Federal government have combined to provide $2 billion for irrigation upgrades and they may well be saying those areas can demonstrate more savings than others therefore we’ll take it.”
Mr Dobson said his region had high quality soils, a ripe climate, world rated irrigation systems, strategic access to markets, healthy freight and logistics systems, a reliable skilled work force and a strong, vibrant community.
Those factors combined give the region great capacity and potential to provide “clean tucker for the world over the next few years - beyond refute”.
But water planning and potential cuts in the draft Basin Plan, he says, are the elephant in the room for that challenge.
“We may have enough water at this stage (to provide clean tucker for the world) but all the evidence I’ve seen says we only need to have a slight hiccup and we won’t have enough water,” he said.
Mr Dobson said the draft plan’s review date of 2015, would take into account works and measures and other water savings achieved between State and Commonwealth programs to that point, in re-assessing the base line SDL target.
But he said his “sense of reviews” was the number could only be reviewed “up not down”.
“I can’t see anybody saying the environment’s got plenty of water so we’ll give it all back,” he said.