Water’s mixed fortunes

Water woes


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Water theft, ongoing concerns about the roll out of the Murray Darling Basin plan and claims Connections was letting irrigators down dominated 2017.

Australia’s Murray Basin Water Ministers, the Ministerial Council for Corporations (MinCO), met in Albury for the final time in 2017, with the meeting again breaking up in acrimony. 

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POSITIVE OUTCOME: A visit by Water Minister Lisa Neville to meet irrigators was positive, according to Loddon Valley farmer Laurie Maxted.

POSITIVE OUTCOME: A visit by Water Minister Lisa Neville to meet irrigators was positive, according to Loddon Valley farmer Laurie Maxted.

LEAKY PIPE: Irrigators around Cohuna and Gunbower, as well as in the Boort area, were plagued by pipe leaks, such as this one on Col Hay's dairy farm.

LEAKY PIPE: Irrigators around Cohuna and Gunbower, as well as in the Boort area, were plagued by pipe leaks, such as this one on Col Hay's dairy farm.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville and her New South Wales counterpart Niall Blair, stood their ground in opposing the further 450 gigalitres (GL) environmental water, sought by South Australia.

Ms Neville said all Basin Ministers had agreed to sign up to the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA’s) 605GL adjustment package of projects, which were helping Victoria reach the 2,750GL target without further Commonwealth water buybacks.

“Victoria made it clear during the meeting that delivering any further on-farm efficiencies to achieve the extra 450GL being requested by South Australia would severely impact the economic and social viability of communities along the Basin,” Ms Neville said. 

South Australia was threatening the delivery of the environmental offset projects critical to achieving the 2,750GL, which could potentially result in further water buybacks or a 2,100GL plan. 

WINTER WORKS: Winter Works, under the Connections project, rolled into summer, as contractor John Holland continued the upgrading work.

WINTER WORKS: Winter Works, under the Connections project, rolled into summer, as contractor John Holland continued the upgrading work.

Independent Shepparton MP Suzanna Sheed repeated earlier claims the Murray Darling Basin plan was a “shambles”. She told a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry hearing into environmental water it was time to pause the plan, until reports from the 11 inquiries and investigations currently being undertaken into it were concluded.  “Many in my community say the Murray Darling Basin Plan is a shambles,” Ms Sheed said.  “It’s not doing what it’s meant to do - the 11 different inquiries that are going on at the moment, I think, is really strong evidence of that.”

While applauding the efforts of the Victorian and NSW Water Ministers, she also said she was disappointed with South Australia. “South Australia is effectively trying to hold these much needed projects to ransom in an attempt to get a political win,” Ms Sheed said.

She also welcomed the agreement by all Basin ministers to the appointment of an independent person to assess and review all the investigations currently being undertaken to ensure they addressed the serious allegations levelled at the Murray Darling Basin Authority and rogue irrigators.

Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association spokeswoman Jan Beer, Yea, and Deniliquin, New South Wales, lobby group, Speak Up, implored Federal and State water ministers to heed what they said were independent reports highlighting the plan’s flaws.

“There is mounting evidence that the modelling under which the plan was developed was inadequate, and there is a distinct lack of transparent monitoring and evaluation of ecological outcomes,” Ms Beer said.

And Speak Up added its voice to calls for a Royal Commission, as the only way to achieve “a balanced, effective” Basin plan. Spokesperson Vicki Meyer said there had been a long list of inquiries and reports into the Plan that had raised many serious concerns around its implementation and the science, on which it was based. Speak Up insisted any Royal Commission must be a Federal Government initiative and cover all aspects of the plan and its implementation by the MDBA.

“We have a divisive plan, established by governments to have winners and losers,” Ms Meyer said.

MDBA responds

As the year ended, the MDBA put out its own progress report, on the implementation of the Basin plan.

MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde, said the 2017 Basin Plan Evaluation had examined what social, economic, cultural, and environmental outcomes were being seen, and where more work was needed.

"Already 2,108 gigalitres (GL) of water has been recovered or contracted to be recovered for the environment, and with the expected operation of the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) Adjustment Mechanism, the water recovery task is likely to be mostly complete," Mr Glyde said. "Government investments in water savings have been an important component of water recovery that has helped reduce the impact on agricultural industries and communities, and modernise irrigation infrastructure and delivery networks. Although the evaluation found that the Basin economy, including the agriculture sector, has continued to grow in the past five years, we know that there are some communities that have felt the impacts of water recovery more than others.”

He promised more detailed work would be carried out, to better understand the plan’s impacts on communities. "While the evaluation findings give us confidence that the Plan is working, we have identified three key areas that need stronger efforts from the MDBA and Basin governments—the development of Water Resource Plans, stronger compliance regimes, and better ways of measuring water take.”

Connections reset

Loddon Valley farmers said they felt they were finally making progress, under the reset of the $2billion Connections program.

After a visit by Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville, several said it appeared their concerns were being addressed. Their greatest concern was long channels, running through the valley, were seeing large fluctuations in water levels, causing problems for irrigation.

Loddon Valley Water Services Committee (WSC) deputy chairman Laurie Maxted, said farmers had “excellent” meeting, with Ms Neville.

 “I was one of the ones who had a meeting with her, in Melbourne, and I said I wanted her to get up here and see it at first hand,” Mr Maxted said. There was now trust, between irrigators and the minister. “I think they are going to make these legacy cases, some of which have been going for seven years, more or less a priority to make sure something does happen with them,” Mr Maxted said.

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