Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville says she’s secured a major win for farmers and irrigators, with assurances there’ll be no on-farm projects in the state, or NSW.
The Minister said an agreement at the Canberra Water Minister’s council meeting would ensure no more water would be taken from Victorian or New South Wales irrigators.
Read more: Water win for worried Basin communities
Water ministers agreed to deliver an additional 62GL to the environment, following the approval of 605GL of environmental offset projects.
“We’ve secured some real wins for Victorian irrigators today, ensuring no further water can be taken from irrigators and farming communities as part of our contribution to the 62GL,” Ms Neville said.
“We’re standing up for Victorian irrigators to ensure no expressions of interest are carried out in Victoria for on farm works, which will just hurt Victorian communities.”
Ms Neville said Victoria’s preference had always been for infrastructure projects that saved water through modernisation and efficiency, rather than programs that took water from farmers and agricultural production.
She said she was adamant Victorian could not contribute to the 450 gigalitres of environmental ‘upwater’, which is required for the environment by 2024 through on-farm projects.
The Commonwealth agreed that no expressions of interest would be undertaken in Victoria or NSW for on-farm efficiencies.
Water recovery would only come from off-farm, industrial or urban water projects.
Ms Neville said Victoria had always argued taking any further water from irrigators in the state’s major food bowl would cause significant social and economic harm.
Read more: Mixed feelings ahead of Water MinCo meeting
She said the current participation test, as the measure of socio-economic harm, was inadequate and did not reflect the real impact that water already taken from the system has had.
The government also negotiated an agreement that the Ministerial Council would develop criteria to assess socio-economic impact, beyond that participation test.
In addition, the meeting agreed that Victoria and other states can use the Basin plan provisions that allow states to develop their own arrangements and projects that meet the socio-economic neutrality test.
This would ensure expressions of interest on-farm did not occur.
Ms Neville said Victoria had agreed to finalise some off-farm projects that would contribute about nine gigalitres towards the 62GL requirement.
Murray Darling Basin plan rules make at least 62GL of upwater contingent to the Murray Darling Basin Authorities approval of the Sustainable Diversion Limit projects
Ms Neville said the off-farm projects would identify system losses that could be fixed through infrastructure investment that could go back into the environment – achieving benefits for farmers, communities and the environment.
These projects would achieve system savings that can be put back into the health of the Basin without impacting on communities.
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said he was pleased with the outcome of the latest MinCo.
”We all took a leap of faith in one another, and the two million Australians who live in the basin can breathe easier,” Mr Littleproud said.
“It was time to show leadership and the Basin Plan is now on track.”
He said ministers had agreed the 450GL of environmental upwater would only be delivered with neutral or positive social and economic outcomes.
“Given this, we need further work to develop detailed additional criteria defining neutral or positive socio-economic impacts,” Mr Littleproud said.
“We'll aim to have this done by Christmas.”
He said work could now start on off-farm urban and industrial projects, to begin delivering water towards the 450GL total.
“I don’t consider the Ernst Young analysis the ‘Bible of the Basin’ but it’s a good starting point to work from,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The EY analysis says around 369GL of the 450GL could be recovered through industrial, urban and off-farm projects.
Ministers agreed the first priority was to recover the 62GL towards the 450GL required by June 2019, to make sure the 605 Sustainable Diversion Limits could lawfully be delivered.
“We got commitments today from the states to deliver up to 64GL towards the 450GL through projects identified by the states - more than the 62GL required” Mr Littleproud said.
He said he was also happy to explore options to help fund metering, in order to roll it out faster.
“Compliance is important, regardless of which industry you're in,” Mr Littleproud said.
“I've already commenced discussions Queensland and NSW to explore options for funding water meters to improve compliance.”
Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership co-chair Suzanna Sheed said community advocacy had paid dividends.
Basin ministers had listened to the hundreds of voices that joined the campaign to highlight the impacts of removing another 450 GL from the southern Basin irrigation pool.
Ms Sheed, Shepparton Independent MP, welcomed the agreement as the big first step towards delivering the Basin Plan as a genuine triple-bottom line reform.
“It has been so pleasing to see the community from Cobram to Swan Hill get behind the GMID Water Leadership’s #fairflow campaign, and make their voices heard all the way to Canberra,” Ms Sheed said.
“The Basin ministers listened, and put politics aside in favour of a sensible and measured way forward to avoid imposing further hardship on our region, while still seeking more water for our rivers.
“They are to be congratulated.”
Elita Ymer, Ymer Orchards, Jim Mehmet, Southern Cross Orchards, Shepparton East. They fear the future foreclosing on young people if irrigation pool is 450GL smaller. "The environment needed water, we're not grizzling about that, but they could go about it a better way." #auspolpic.twitter.com/CQGwo6BiO7— #fairflow (@gmidleadership) June 7, 2018
Ms Sheed said she looked forward to working with the States and Commonwealth on developing a wider socio-economic impact assessment before any attempt to recover more water from the irrigation pool.
“It is essential the community is confident and has ownership of the revised socio-economic neutrality test.”
GMID Water Leadership spokesman and Mooroopna orchardist Peter Hall said the decision would relieve the pressure on farmers worried about the security of water supply and affordability if the 450GL was recovered from farmers.
“Farmers from this region have contributed more water to the environment under the Basin Plan than any other region.
“The environment needs more water, but it hasn’t come cheap for our community with reduced production and losses in jobs, services industries and our town businesses.
“We are pleased to see the Basin ministers today take our concerns about causing further hardship seriously, and step back from the brink.”