Policy and pipelines are key to irrigation future

Northern irrigators stress importance of getting Murray Darling Basin Plan right


Water
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Water policy is weighing heavily on northern irrigators minds.

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Irrigators say addressing ongoing concerns about water policy, rather than the provision of physical projects, should be the incoming State government’s highest priority. 

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT: David McKenzie, Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership group co-chair, has called for bi-partisan political support, over the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT: David McKenzie, Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership group co-chair, has called for bi-partisan political support, over the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

They say while projects such as pipelines are important, their greatest concerns revolve around the continued roll-out of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair David McKenzie called on the major parties to work together, on resolving issues arising from the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

 “I’m looking for bi-partisanship on the mega-issue for northern Victoria, which is water security and the threat posed by the last stages of the Basin Plan,” Mr McKenzie said.

He said any incoming government must stop the amount of water leaving the consumptive pool.

“It’s bigger than politics,” he said.

“I think the Labor and the Coalition are on the same page, but won’t go on the same stage and say it.

“I am pleased both parties have a strong sense of what’s right for northern Victoria.”

I think the Labor and the Coalition are on the same page, but won’t go on the same stage and say it. - David McKenzie, GMID Water Leadership Group co-chair

He said Victorian politicians could take the lead from their South Australian counterparts, where MP’s from all parties stood up for the state.

“That would be a powerful image for Victoria to portray.

“It lets everyone know they understand what matters and can’t be split.”

Irrigation infrastructure

Victorian Farmers Federation Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said he assumed any future coalition would commit to the irrigation projects, flagged by the current government.

Read more: Victorian water security gets a $65million boost

 “(Opposition leader) Matthew Guy has shown he is not in the business of ripping up contracts, so one would think they are safe,” Mr Anderson said.

A key priority would be to keep the pressure on the Commonwealth Government, to co-fund the projects.

He also called for work to continue on the socio-economic neutrality test, for the 450Gigalitres of environmental upwater, as the GMID was now at a “tipping point.

“We don’t support on-farm projects that take water out of the consumptive pool – our position hasn’t changed there,” Mr Anderson said.

Read more: High turnout at water recovery consultations, as Government extends consultations

“We’ve just spent $2billion on Connections, and we need to make sure we have sufficient water to go through the system.

“Let’s face it, this has been going on for 10 years, and everyone has had a bit of a crack at it – let’s finish it off properly and bring it to some conclusion.”

“The history of the project is not too good.”

He said tariffs and pricing were a critical issue, as was the future operation of Goulburn-Murray Water.

GMW Central Goulburn Water Services committee chairman Peter Hacon said water security was the key, to the survival of the GMID.

“That means restrictions on the volume of irrigation water, going down the river and looking at capacity issues,” Mr Hacon said.

Removing further water from the consumptive pool was not good for irrigation.

“It’s about protecting the state’s assets – if we allow water to migrate, we end up with stranded assets and the associated socio-economic impact of those stranded assets.”

And Australian Consolidated Milk general manager – commercial, Peter Jones, said water was the lifeblood of agriculture in the region.

“While there is a lot of discussion about what is needed, we are still waiting for a sensible outcome.” Mr Jones said.

“It would be great if the Victorian Nationals Leader could encourage his Federal colleagues to achieve a favourable outcome for the region regarding the 450GL of upstream water.

“The certainty around this is very important for all irrigators in the region, so they can start planning for to future with a clear understanding of how much water is going to be available ongoing.”

Water supply

Loddon irrigator Lawrie Maxted agreed that no more water could leave the GMID.

WATER LOSS: Loddon Valley irrigator Lawrie Maxted fears more water loss will kill Goulburn-Murray Water.

WATER LOSS: Loddon Valley irrigator Lawrie Maxted fears more water loss will kill Goulburn-Murray Water.

“In light of droughts and the forecast of low rainfall, we can’t allow that upwater to leave the district,” Mr Maxted said.

“If it goes, it’ll lead to the demise of GMW, in its current form.”

He said he was very concerned about the growth in permanent plantings, further down the Murray.

“The only water available for them is from the GMID.”

Pipeline construction, such as the one to Mitiamo, was also significant.

“Money needs to be made available for that, for stock in drought times, as it gives peace of mind for farmers, in those areas.”

Echuca West irrigator Glenn Murrells said he’d like to see the burden of delivery and infrastructure cost levied more equitably.

“Trying to reduce our fixed costs in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District is one of our largest problems,” Mr Murrells said.

“I’ve just revisited whether to irrigate and we spend $137.64 a hectare before we even put a drop of water on the ground.”

Mr Murrells said he had abandoned plans for a summer crop.

“I’ll sell the water and go to Kangaroo Island for a holiday on the beach,” he said.

He also nominated carryover rules and airspace in Victoria’s reservoirs, set aside for environmental water, as critical issues.

Upwater concerns

Cohuna dairy farmer Jodie Hay said her main concern was the prospect of the extra 450GL coming out of the Murray Darling Basin.

“We are seeing collateral damage from the amount of water being taken out of the consumptive pool.

“People are no longer dairy farming, in this region, and there’s been a huge reduction in herd numbers,” Ms Hay said.

“I would be more confident in a government that was going to review the impact of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and I would love a government to implement some flexibility in the plan.”

“I would like more accountability for environmental outcomes and some solid evidence.”

Environmental water should be viewed as a resource for all, in times of crisis.

She was one of a number of farmers in the region who questioned the delivery of 82GL of environmental water to Gunbower Forest, between mid-June and the end of November.

Read more: Dairy farmers join criticism of Gunbower Forest watering

Fixed costs and delivery shares needed to be reviewed, so the contribution was shared more equitably.

“Landowners are carrying the lion’s share, and that’s unsustainable.”

Ms Hay also called for a review of carryover.

Farmers should also be recognised for their role in helping the environment, with credits, for providing habitat for birds during dry times.

Contrary view

But Sunraysia irrigator Bill McClumpha had a contrary view.

He said if the government was returned, current minister Lisa Neville should be replaced by someone prepared to disengage from the dairy lobby while working with other states and the Federal Government to progress a sustainable Murray Darling Basin Plan.

“The Opposition’s Tony Bourke has a compact with Water Minister David Littleproud, at the moment, but he and Lisa Neville are 180 degrees apart, and that’s a contradiction that should be acknowledged and dealt with,” Mr McClumpha said.

“The Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project stage one deal should be reworked, so water saving earmarked for irrigators go to the environment, not as a windfall gain to irrigators. 

“The same thing goes for any incoming Coalition government, but the chances of the Plan being implemented, as agreed, by a Nationals Water minister are even less.”

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