The State Government has extended the consultation period for the draft Northern Victoria Water Resource Plan, after concerns the initial response time was inadequate.
Submissions on the 1200 page WRP will now be accepted by the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning until March 18, a further fortnight from the first deadline.
Water Minister Lisa Neville said community input was essential to ensure the draft plan was implemented.
“This plan shows how Victoria can rely on its existing water management and entitlement frameworks to meet the requirements of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan,” Ms Neville said.
“We’re delivering on our commitments to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and balancing the needs of all Victorian water users – the environment, farmers, Traditional Owners and community.”
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan requires that by June this year, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory will prepare Water Resource Plans, across all regions within the Basin.
The plan outlines how much surface water can be taken on farms, towns, industry, recreation and for the environment.
Ms Neville said the draft plan showed Victoria’s strategies to manage risk, including from climate change and drought, managing water quality and arrangements for groundwater trade.
The draft Water Resource Plan also includes identifying and responding to Traditional Owner water values and uses.
She said it was a significant step toward Victoria's implementation of the Basin Plan on time and in full.
It demonstrated how the state would be able to rely on its existing water management framework to meet the requirements of the Basin Plan, including complying with sustainable diversion limits.
The Water Resource Plan includes the River Murray, and its tributaries, including the Mitta Mitta, Kiewa, Ovens, Goulburn, Broken, Campaspe and Loddon river systems – as well as the groundwater beneath them.
Tongala irrigator Peter Hacon said the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District had been at a tipping point, for some time.
“To ensure the future of the GMID, the thing we need is water security,” Mr Hacon said.
“We have issues with too much water, going down the river now.
“It’s the volume of water leaving the GMID that's ruining it. That’s it, in a nutshell.”
He said even the environmental lobby was saying the Murray River was running too hard and causing damage, as a result.
“It’s totally unnatural to run the river, that high, in summer.”
Mr Hacon said much of the irrigation water that was used in the GMID was going downstream, after being purchased by multinationals and horticultural growers, who were looking at a 10-year return on their investment.
“The traditional farmer can’t compete with that - he can’t go 10 years, without making a profit on his money.”
It appeared the Murray was being used as a reservoir, to supply downstream irrigators.
“We know there is an issue with supply, as it takes 25 days to get water from Hume Dam down to Mildura,” he said.
Read more: No relief for irrigators
Yea beef producer Jan Beer said the WRP was an “enforceable instrument” under the Commonwealth Water Act and Basin Plan.
“Communities in the Basin must be afforded the time to understand exactly what implications the WRP will have,” Ms Beer said.
“There was no time for proper consultation with the Water Resource Plan, being 1022 pages long and released barely 10 days before the first consultation date with Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Yea and Bendigo.
“This gives no reasonably adequate time to read, understand and be able to engage in meaningful consultation.”
She said the fact all Basin states were required to have prepared their WRP’s by June, showed the Plan timeframe was totally irrational, given the amount of information requested by the MDBA for the document.
“I’m particularly wary of the rush to gain accreditation of the plan, thus locking in projects and embedding the WRP and sustainable diversion limits in the Basin Plan,” Ms Beer said.
“The Productivity Commission Report recommends the MDBA should comprehensively update and publish modelling to confirm the enhanced environmental outcomes that can be achieved with additional water recovery, particularly using up-to-date information on constraints proposals and effects of supply measures,” Ms Beer said.
The MDBA had admitted Basin inflows had significantly been reduced to the Darling system, but that was the case, throughout the whole region.
“Yet the Federal and State Governments continue to push forward in haste, without updated modelling, locking us into legislation and a Basin Plan which simply is not feasible or achievable,” Ms Beer said.
“Currently, the Basin Plan modelling is unworkable and cannot achieve the proposed environmental objectives.”
She called for an immediate revision of plans and projects, under the plan.
“Modelling data should be reviewed, as this is the very basis of whether the Plan fails or succeeds,” she said.
Loddon irrigator Ken Pattison said the plan was the “water Bible,’ which authorities would use in the continued roll-out of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
But he said the length of the plan could be putting some people off commenting.
“It could be cut in half, if they just said what they wanted to say once.
“We can’t understand what the rush is?” Mr Pattison said.
“NSW asked for a seven-month extension, and got it.”
He said he was concerned at what was left out of the WRP.
“It certainly sets in place what they are going to do, it doesn’t set down what the Victorian Water Minister is not prepared to do,” he said.
That included ruling out flooding of freehold land, to push environmental water down to South Australia, and the compulsory acquisition of easements.
Opposition Water spokesman Steph Ryan said the government had again botched consultation on the WRP, which was a vital plank of the Basin Plan.
She said residents of Mildura, Yea and Bendigo only heard from the government, the day after information sessions were held in their communities.
“It’s the height of arrogance from the government to claim they wanted the community’s input when they hadn’t allowed people any time to get across the detail before public consultation was held,” Ms Ryan said.
“If Ms Neville wants people to have confidence in how the Basin Plan will be implemented, she has no choice but to extend the dates for consultation on the draft plan,” Ms Ryan said.
“The least Ms Neville could do is afford irrigators and communities, who have already faced massive change and whose livelihoods depend on the outcome of this document, an opportunity to have their opinions genuinely considered.”
But Victorian Farmers Federation Water Council chairman Richard Anderson the WRP was a matter of “ticking the boxes” and submitting the plan.
He said the Wimmera-Mallee Water Resource Plan had already been completed, and submitted to the MDBA.
“There shouldn’t be any concerns, it’s a compliance thing, under the Basin Plan,” Mr Anderson said. “Victoria has to submit it.”
He said there were no policy, or directional, changes in the draft water resources plan.
“I wouldn’t expect any comeback, once it's lodged.”