The Victorian Government’s Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy (NRSWS) released last week has provided a 50-year blueprint to address the water challenges to face Northern Victorian farmers and irrigators over the coming decades, said the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF).
VFF Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said the strategy outlines 69 actions and policies to manage the impact of drought and a changing climate, including a new system reserve and seasonal allocation policy, registering all new or altered domestic and stock dams in rural residential subdivisions that are eight hectare or smaller, and introducing new carryover rules.
"There is no doubt that the prolonged drought has focussed attention on the long-term implications of a dryer climate for regional communities and irrigators," Mr Anderson said.
"However, the VFF is very concerned that the reserve policy will make it difficult in the first year of operation if that year is a dry year.
"Allowing for a transition period to the reserve policy would alleviate some of these concerns."
However, Mr Anderson said the Government had not "heeded the concerns raised by the farming community over such a policy’s impact on various industries and districts within the Northern Region".
Further consultation and additional work should have been conducted before finalising the policy, he said.
"The commitments within the Strategy to protect existing water entitlements, clarify roles and responsibilities in the Murray Darling Basin, and identify the need for structural works to reduce the need for environmental water recovery, are welcomed and are essential for maintaining investment in agriculture.
"The VFF shares the concerns expressed in the Strategy regarding the growth of amenity dams on small properties and supports registering these types of dams without charge.
"However, the existing right of commercial farmers to store necessary stock and domestic water on their property free of charge and without a licence must be preserved.
"Although the new carryover rules will decrease the risk of losing carryover in full allocation years, the VFF is highly concerned with the removal of the limit on how much water can be carried over by entitlement holders and the tariffing structure for casual storage access."
The VFF is arguing for farmers' right to access a storage capacity that they pay for.
The VFF was also disappointed that the concerns of Upper Catchment farmers’ were not addressed.
"Victorian farmers are obviously disappointed that although the Strategy has acknowledged that there is likely to be less water across the Basin in the coming years, it has not been recommended that all water savings from infrastructure projects be retained within the food bowl to address this problem," Mr Anderson said.
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