Scepticism over latest Basin figures

There's been a sceptical reaction to the latest Murray Darling Basin analysis


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Irrigators say the latest MDBA figures fail to tell the whole story.

There’s been a sceptical response in Victoria to the latest water recovery figures, released by the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

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GROUNDHOG DAY: The release of the Murray Darling Basin Authority figures had a feeling of "groundhog day", according to David McKenzie, Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair.

GROUNDHOG DAY: The release of the Murray Darling Basin Authority figures had a feeling of "groundhog day", according to David McKenzie, Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair.

The MDBA has released figures showing at October 2016, the total recovery from both infrastructure works and water purchases in the 41 southern Basin communities, stood at 1033.9 gigalitres (GL).

But Victorian irrigators said the figures didn’t tell the whole story.

Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Forum co-chair David McKenzie said the report confirmed what Basin communities already knew.

“There’s a bit of groundhog day here,” Mr McKenzie said.

“It’s the same headline we’ve seen before – new study finds what communities have known for years.”

WATER TRADES

He said the real issue, which the MDBA failed to address, was the continued purchase of high-reliability water from the NSW Murray and GMID.

“We are the water piggy bank for the Southern Connected basin,” he said.

We are the water piggy bank for the Southern Connected basin. - David McKenzie, Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Forum co-chair.

The MDBA figures showed a net reduction to water availability in the southern Basin was 810GL, when water savings retained on-farm of 67GL were taken into account.

The figures are contained in further analysis of the socio-economic impacts of the Basin Plan, on communities in the Southern Basin

But Mr McKenzie said the water leadership group remained convinced the MDBA failed to underestimate the impact of the plan.

“They are not acknowledging the impact of the downstream trade,” Mr McKenzie said.

“We are having trouble getting them to accept the effects of on-farm efficiencies, in the Murrumbidgee and Sunraysia

“Irrigators from those areas inevitably go to the NSW Murray or the GMID to get high-reliability water to sustain their enterprises.”

Mr McKenzie said he was not criticising the water market, but that the MDBA did not want to acknowledge the role played by transfers.

“If people weren’t giving up water for on-farm efficiency projects, they wouldn’t have to top up their water portfolios with Victorian high-reliability water.”

He said it appeared to be too hard an issue for the MDBA to address.

“Philosophically, they just don’t want to open that box,” he said.

MDBA ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

MDBA executive director Colin Mues acknowledged the role of water trades, in Basin Plan water recovery.

TRADE EFFECTS: Colin Mues, MDBA executive director, said the latest analysis of the Basin showed many communities were experiencing big changes in irrigated agriculture.

TRADE EFFECTS: Colin Mues, MDBA executive director, said the latest analysis of the Basin showed many communities were experiencing big changes in irrigated agriculture.

Mr Mues said the analysis showed many communities across the Basin were experiencing big changes in irrigated agriculture, and that in some communities the Basin Plan has been a major factor.

“The MDBA’s work aimed to separate out what is due to the Basin Plan relative to all the other factors contributing to change,” Mr Mues said.

The analysis also aimed to get a better understanding of the effect of water recovery, on production.

“In the southern Basin communities we studied, just over 1,000 GL was recovered through buybacks and on-farm investment – water which was previously being used for production.”

Around a third of that had come from the GMID.

The MDBA analysis considers how this might affect dairy, fruit growing and other irrigation sectors.

COMMUNITY PROFILES

“Our analysis has identified the effect of the sale of water entitlements to other expanding industries, particularly before 2008, and changes to farming made after the Millennium drought in areas such as the GMID – this is reflected in our community profiles for example, Shepparton, Kerang-Cohuna and Pyramid Hill-Boort,” Mr Mues said.

“The MDBA does take into account how farmers are changing the way that they buy water in the higher water availability years and can also accommodate increases in trade out during the dry years.

“We also acknowledge that other communities have maintained agricultural production because water trade into the region has offset Basin Plan water recovery.”

MURRUMBIDGEE IMPACTS

There were a number of reasons why some communities, such as the Murrumbidgee and Murray Irrigation areas, were experiencing different effects from the Basin Plan.

“One example is the effect of non-Basin Plan environmental water recovery programs (which mostly preceded the Basin Plan).

“In other cases, the benefits which have flowed from the Commonwealth investment in both on-farm and off-farm infrastructure investment appears to have been important.

Mr Mues said this was also evident in the GMID”

MDBA ANALYSIS

“Our analysis indicates that there are a number of reasons why some communities, such as in the Murrumbidgee and Murray Irrigation areas, are experiencing different effects from the Basin Plan,” Mr Mues said.

“One example is the effect of non-Basin Plan environmental water recovery programs (which mostly preceded the Basin Plan).

“In other cases, the benefits which have flowed from the Commonwealth investment in both on-farm and off-farm infrastructure investment appears to have been important.”

MANY QUESTIONS

Australian Dairy Industry Council Basin Water Taskforce chairman Daryl Hoey said while he was still to get a full briefing, there were a lot of questions as to how robust the figures were.

“They are saying the amount of pain is within the scope of what we expected, so it’s okay,” Mr Hoey said.

“But it’s not okay.”

Mr Hoey said the MDBA was still putting the Murrumbidgee irrigation area “up on a pedestal, as a shining light,” yet not acknowledging the region had largely escaped buybacks.

MDBA QUESTIONS: Daryl Hoey Australian Dairy Industry Council Basin Water Taskforce chairman said many questions still needed to be answered over the impacts of the plan.

MDBA QUESTIONS: Daryl Hoey Australian Dairy Industry Council Basin Water Taskforce chairman said many questions still needed to be answered over the impacts of the plan.

The Murrumbidgee also had a significant amount of on-farm efficiency works.

“While the MDBA is putting them up as an example, yet not being open, honest and transparent about the reasons behind those things, it brings into question the whole integrity of their narrative.”

NSW PERSPECTIVE

Speak Up, Deniliquin, chairwoman Shelley Scoullar said the findings confirmed what recent independent reports had been telling irrigators.

“The damage to food producing communities is significant; it is not only costing these communities jobs and population, but also costing the nation billions of dollars in lost production,” Ms Scoullar said.

The latest figures presented more proof the plan needed to be constantly modified and adapted, as new evidence became available.

“We need a plan based on quality, not quantity,”  Ms Scoullar said.

DATA FAILURES

Mrs Scoullar said what the data did not highlight was where the limited available water was being used, only who owned it. 

“This is a critical piece of the puzzle if we want to maximise water effectiveness and efficiency because employment relies on water going onto farms, not being sold downstream,” she said.

“It is not surprising that most irrigation reliant communities bounced back somewhat after the Millennium Drought, but they will never return to what they once were, so perhaps we will never know the full ramifications of the Basin Plan.

We need a plan based on quality, not quantity - Shelley Scoullar, Speak Up chairwoman

“With an increasing population and a need for food it is heart-breaking that billions of dollars in government infrastructure to establish one of the most efficient irrigation systems in the world in the New South Wales Murray and Northern Victorian regions is being underutilised.”

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