They said farming operations in northern Victoria were much different to those in northern New South Wales and Queensland.
GMW managing director Pat Lennon said modernisation across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID) allowed for increasing automated meter reading to detect anomalies in water use.
“As a regulated system, where we control water releases downstream of our water storages, GMW is also aware of – and proactive – in responding to any anomalies in non-automated areas,” Mr Lennon said.
In 2016-17, GMW dealt with 456 cases of alleged offences under the Water Act 1989.
“The vast majority involved unintended over-use of relatively small amounts of water,” he said.
“These figures were comparable to past years; 462 and 356 alleged offences in the two preceding financial years, respectively.”
The vast majority of over-use anomalies were rectified through education on water entitlements.
“These users are primarily unmetered, lifestyle properties where a deemed domestic and stock water allowance is in place,” Mr Lennon said.
“We have more than 12,300 irrigation customers.
“Overall, 97 per cent of these irrigators are compliant and operate within their entitlement.”
Only a small number of over-use cases required warning notices.
“Should over-use persist, offenders are referred for prosecution, where they are liable for fines, court costs and compensation,” Mr Lennon said.
Murrabit dairy farmer Andrew Leahy said he also had confidence in the compliance regime, in Victoria.
“I will defend Goulburn-Murray Water in that compliance is very good,” Mr Leahy said.
“On the other side of the river, it is a totally different story – it’s still like the wild west, out there.”
Others expressed concern the allegations tarnished all irrigators.
Yea producer Jan Beer said if the about water theft on the Darling River were true, the actions of a few large irrigators and corporates, were having an impact on everyone else in the Basin.
“If the allegations are true, I’m very angry that a few large irrigators and corporates in the Darling are rorting the system, as their actions impact on every one else in the Murray Darling Basin, giving all irrigators a bad name,” Ms Beer said.
“In actual fact, the vast majority of our food producers abide by the irrigation rules and regulations.
She said the revelations also played on the fact that except in times of very large flows the Darling River always looked to be in need of more water
“The (television) footage shown would make viewers believe that the river was being sucked dry.
“Most viewers would not be aware that historically the Darling River flow is extremely irregular and on many occasions does not flow at all, having dried up 45 times between 1885 and 1960.
“At nearly 1500 km in length the Darling River flows through a virtually flat terrain where the average gradient is only 16mm per kilometre, so it is extremely sluggish.”
Sunraysia Branch VFF water spokesman Bill McClumpha said revelations were disturbing – but not suprising.
“There have long been question marks as to Department of Primary Industries (DPI) water compliance in the Northern Basin, and as to the bona fides of NSW with respect to achieving a fair and balanced Murray Darling Basin Plan,” Mr. McClumpha said.
“But water theft is only part of the story, environmental flows are being diverted to cotton storages, with catastrophic consequences to downstream users, substantially due to the 2012 changes to the “low flow” rules in the Barwon Darling water sharing plan.
“Now we have a raft of inquiries under way, and calls for more, including from South Australian premier Jay Weatherill for a judicial inquiry, but it is difficult to believe that any substantive findings will result.”
Mr McClumpha said the real benefit of the airing of the allegations was that a clearer clearer picture of the real politics of the plan had emerged.
He said Federal Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce had admitted bias against the environment and water recovery.
“This raises questions regarding the 70GL dropped from Northern Basin recovery targets as a result of the MDBA's Northern Basin Review.”
He said he believed it was too late for South Australia to recover its position, against that of NSW, Victoria and Mr Joyce.
“When the Earnst Young report socio-economic report, which (South Australian Water minister) Ian Hunter agreed to at Minco is handed down, South Australia can expect to be denied any recovery of the 450 gigalitres (GL) of upwater it believes should be recovered.”