Mildura irrigators and a group of farmers around the Cohuna area said the report could open the door to a share of more than $1.5billion in new irrigation efficiency measures.
But long time Yea beef producer Jan Beer was among those who were critical of the report, saying it was “lacking credibility.”
The Department of Agriculture and Water, under former Minister Barnaby Joyce, commissioned EY to investigate the effects of taking the 450 Gigalitres (450GL) of environmental upwater.
A key recommendation in the report, ‘Analysis of efficiency measures in the Murray-Darling Basin’, backed the recovery of the 450GL.
“From the analysis and discussions undertaken, and assuming the recommendations in the report are implemented, there is sufficient evidence the 450 GL can likely be recovered from water efficiency projects on a neutral or positive socio-economic basis,” the report said.
Irrigators in the far north-west of the state reacted positively to the report, along with some farmers around Cohuna, in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID).
The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Sunraysia branch said the report had recommended Lower Murray Water (LMW) and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) work with stakeholders to identify projects and pathways to access a share of the available funding.
Spokesman Bill McClumpha said $1.57billion was on offer across the Basin.
“Although a lot of that money could flow to large gravity districts including the GMID, the potential is clearly identified in the report for Sunraysia to benefit substantially,” Mr McClumpha said.
“For example, LMW could access money for priority upgrades, which missed the cut under the Sunraysia Modernisation Project (SMP). Pumped district and private diverters of all scales could get funding for on farm efficiency projects.”
He said “water politics” had meant work had not been done to gain access to the available Federal upwater efficiency program funding, as State Water Minister Lisa Neville said the only way it could proceed was if there were neutral, or no negative, socio economic effects.
“This is especially so with the appointment of David Littleproud as the new Federal water minister, who is backing the EY findings as being an important element in the robust MDBP the community is demanding post Four Corners. "
But Yea producer Jan Beer was among those who found faults, in the report.
Ms Beer said impacts could not be considered in isolation, as the cumulative effects of all facets of the Basin Plan so far must be considered, in conjunction with the effects of removal of the 450GL upwater.
“It is the compounding socio-economic impacts which will destroy communities from where this water is extracted, along with the attempt - via constraints - to deliver that water downstream to South Australia, due to the volume, duration and frequency of environmental flows proposed under the Basin Plan,” Ms Beer said.
The EY report acknowledged “that there are data limitations, and that this has impacted the precision and level of quantitative analysis that has been undertaken.”
“The report lacks credibility in failing to take into account and analyse the specific and serious cumulative socio-economic impacts already caused by the unbundling of water from land, water buy-backs, creation of “high-tech, high-cost” modernised irrigation system, changed water market, retained costs left with irrigators after removal of environmental water, ongoing system failures, need to change farm management, increased water costs and changes to spillable accounts.
Ms Beer said in October, 2017, Goulburn Murray Water (GMW) Water Resources manager Dr Mark Bailey stated removing the 450GL upwater from the region meant “if there was substantially less water and less irrigation, GMW’s business model would not be sustainable in its current form.
“This is because we draw the majority of our revenue from managing water on behalf of irrigators.”
Irrigators in the Cohuna district welcomed the findings, as opening the way to a fresh round of on-farm irrigation efficiency projects.
Echuca livestock producer and grain grower Andrew Christian said EY had conducted an extensive consultation process with stakeholders, “which is clearly evident in the report"
"GMID irrigators are calling out for On Farm Irrigation Efficiency Programs (OFIEP) funding and with $30 million currently on hold, pending the EY report, Ms Neville should reinstate the program as a matter of urgency,” Mr Christian said.
Stuart Palmer, who said he milked 220 cows, said he felt he was “living in the dark ages”, as only half of his property had been developed.
“My productivity would go through the roof,” Mr Palmer said.
“I would be able to grow more fodder, maybe start up another enterprise on the farm and diversity – at the moment I am hamstrung. I have areas on my farm, which I haven’t irrigaqted for more than 10 years.
“I couldn’t access the OFIEP because the irrigation channels, through the property, were not deemed a backbone.”
Mr Palmer said there were benefits to the local community from upgrades, as he would spend money there.
”My farm has been on hold for five or six year, waiting for OFIEP to knock at my door.”
Greg Goulding said he milked 550 cows at Cohuna and said anything that resulted in progress in more on-farm efficiency programs was welcome.
“They have shut our channel down, with Connections, and I would love to do some on farm efficiency programs,” Mr Goulding said.
“I couldn’t get anything done before because I wasn’t connected to the backbone.
“I have been waiting for this for quite a few years, it keeps stopping and starting and it’s quite frustrating.”
He said water was now piped to his last wheel, but there was still a long way to go to finish the rest of the farm.
“I can do it myself, but its going to take a lot of money, which I don’t have at the moment.
“And we just don’t know what the future is, especially with the water situation.”
Industry leaders were more guarded in their comments.
Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) Basin Water Taskforce chair Daryl Hoey said there were issues “of real concern, of a technical nature.
“There is a lack of understanding of the dairy regions, particularly around the GMID and the Riverina,” Mr Hoey said.
“There are some assumptions made there that a very hard to follow, particularly on the amount of water that can be saved.”
He said there was a complete disconnect between how much water needed to be saved and how it was to be paid for.
“Everything is doable. But it has to be backed up with a reality check, in the marketplace, as to what that water is worth,” Mr Hoey said.
And the Victorian Farmers Federation’s (VFF’s) Water Council chairman, Richard Anderson, said he was intrigued the report’s authors had mentioned savings could be made in urban and off-farm areas.
“The report is saying the water may - or may not - be recovered,” Mr Anderson said.
“But let’s do one thing at a time – finish off the 605GL and give us a bit of money to investigate further projects, which might be able to save more water.”
The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has determined the 605GL saving could be implemented through Southern Basin sustainable diversion limits (SDL’s), nominated by state governments.
“Don’t hold up the 605, because everybody misses out. There is there is no point delaying it, as it is part of the Basin Plan,” Mr Anderson said.
“The work has been done for the 605, for the 450GL there is more work to be done.
“Give the States a bit more money to see what more can be done.”