Under the Murray Darling Basin Plan, SDL’s regulate the amount of water that can be used for consumptive purposes. Bill McClumpha, the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) water council Sunraysia representative, said he was deeply concerned plan environmental flow targets would be further cut back.
“What we are really looking down the barrel of is a Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) study which is going to come up with recommendations for a substantial reduction of water recovery targets in the southern basin,” Mr McClumpha said. “You can put that down as a certainty – and it’s not going to be based on any science. It’s going to be a politically directed populist review, like the recent northern basin review, which will strip 70GL of environmental water from the northern basin.”
He said the 450GL of environmental upwater, promised to South Australia, must remain on the table, because it was vital to achieving a workable plan for both South Australia and the entire basin.
“Combined with the northern Basin cuts and the fiddling with the SDL adjustment mechanism and the upwater abandonment, the outlook is grim for a meaningful Plan”
Mr McClumpha also questioned claims made about the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID), made by RM Consulting Group and irrigators in the Shepparton area.
The group claimed research had shown the plan had cost the GMID $550 million in lost production, every year, since 2012. But Mr McClumpha said it assumed static commodity prices and that a fixed value could be assigned to all water sold to the government, which was then lost. “The popular - but incorrect - belief is that there’s plenty of water around, but irrigators cannot access it, because the environment gets it,” Mr McClumpha said. “That's just a furphy, water availability depends on rainfall and competition.”
That's just a furphy, water availability depends on rainfall and competition.
“Why do GMID Action Group growers think they are different from a nut grower, or a dried fruit or wine grower who understand they have to have a strategic water portfolio, including adequate entitlements, to farm sustainably” he said.
Taking more water from the environment would “vandalise” the Murray Basin plan.
“The consequences will be a dirtier, saltier, river with more algal blooms and blackwater events, less fish, birds, and animals, less biodiversity, and less productive, less amenable, less sustainable, rural communities with poorer socio-economic outcomes.”
He said state and federal politicians had attacked and vandalised, “the scope of the plan, taking a short sighted, populist approach, against the national interest.”
Mr McClumpha said independent research had shown the price and availability of water depended on rainfall.“The basin plan has not ripped the guts out of communities; it has not suddenly made water unavailable or three times dearer,” he said. The chance of achieving a workable, socially and economically sustainable Murray Darling Basin plan was rapidly disappearing. “The plan remains politically friendless and is being dismantled, for political motives, in an intensifying populist campaign.”
An MDBA spokesperson said the legislated 1500GL cap on water buybacks meant water recovery targets would be achieved through investments in on, and off-farm, efficiencies.
“The MDBA has proposed a modest reduction in water recovery for the northern basin (320GL rather than the current 390GL) provided governments commit to implementing a range of practical measures to improve water management, such as improved protection of environmental flows,” the spokeswoman said.
In the southern basin, governments were working on proposals to both increase environmental outcomes and reduce socio-economic impacts from the plan, through the SDL adjustment mechanism.
But Murray Valley primary producer lobby group Speak Up has called for a greater understanding of the steps needed to protect and promote jobs growth in regional communities.
Spokeswoman Shelley Scoullar said it was time for politicians to make a special effort to appreciate the rural devastation caused by flawed water policy – and to do something about it. “The time for political pussy-footing must end,” Ms Scoullar said.
“From the prime minister down, we must accept there are serious problems with implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. How many jobs have to be lost? How many studies have to show the economic devastation in rural communities for Mr Turnbull to sit up and take notice?”
Ms Scoullar said two important reports - the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA’s) northern review and the independent Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District (GMID) study – showed significant job losses were occurring under the Basin Plan.
“If it was absolutely essential that people had to lose their livelihoods to save our precious environment, that may be a sacrifice that we would have to accept. But it’s not the case.”
“We must get the Basin Plan right,” Ms Scoullar said.
Federal Water Minister Barnaby Joyce and Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville have also been contacted for comment.