Water sharing review concerns

Concerns raised over state water sharing review

Water
RALLY ATTENDEES: Shepparton Independent MP Suzanna Sheed with Canberra Convoy co-organiser, Speak Up's Shelley Scoullar.

RALLY ATTENDEES: Shepparton Independent MP Suzanna Sheed with Canberra Convoy co-organiser, Speak Up's Shelley Scoullar.

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Focus on compliance, flood plain harvesting, metering: Victorian MPs.

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Victoria has warned it'll oppose any plans to change water sharing arrangements, if there's a negative impact on the state.

Water Minister Lisa Neville has responded strongly to potential changes to water sharing, as a result of the Canberra "Can the Plan" rally.

About 2000 protesters, from Victoria and the NSW Riverina, who travelled to Parliament House, called for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be scrapped.

"We have turned the corner," one of the rally organisers Chris Brooks said.

A delegation discussed the issue with federal Water Minister David Littleproud and the Interim Inspector-General Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources (IIG) Mick Keelty

"This is a turning point for our communities," Mr Brooks said.

Mr Brooks said the rally had not been a waste of time.

"We will leave with some major achievements and a belief that things are going to change," Mr Brooks, who is also chair of Southern Riverina Irrigators, said.

He said Mr Littleproud would call on states to support a review of the impact of the Basin Plan on state water-sharing arrangements.

Mr Keelty would be given powers to investigate issues of concern across state and federal jurisdictions.

Read more: Littleproud commits to push investigation after "Can the Plan" rally

No negative impacts

But Victorian Water Minister, Lisa Neville, said the government would not support any changes to the water-sharing arrangements, that would have a negative impact on the state.

She said Victoria had a conservative allocation policy, that, despite dry conditions, had resulted in some allocations being made available to entitlement holders, this season.

The latest seasonal determinations saw the Goulburn and Loddon systems increase from 61 per cent High Reliability Water Shares to 63pc HRWS.

The Campaspe system moves from 60pc HRWS to 61pc..

Resource Manager Mark Bailey said continuing flows to the major storages were the main contributor to water availability improvements.

"Flows into most storages were better than estimated," Dr Bailey said.

"Increased commitments from the Snowy system into the Murray system also added to the seasonal determination."

Ms Neville said Victorian communities should not be penalised for the conservative approach.

"I support ensuring the best use of all available water, but I won't stand by and let water sharing rules be changed to the detriment of Victorian communities," Ms Neville said.

"While we agree the Basin Plan needs to be adaptive - these water sharing rules pre-date the Plan and are the basis for states making the best decisions possible for allocations to their farmers.

"I will be writing to Federal Minister David Littleproud and the Inspector General to make my expectations clear about the role and priorities of the position."

She said Victoria supported the establishment of the Office of the Inspector General and powers associated with it to ensure compliance in the Basin, proper metering and administration of rules.

But Ms Neville said the state government would not support the IG having powers to change water sharing rules affecting Victoria that pre-date the Basin Plan.

Constant rule changes should not undermine economic security, certainty and planning for farmers and communities.

Ms Neville said the IG should focus on floodplain harvesting, allocation, metering, monitoring of large-scale individual water use and licensing arrangements in the Northern Basin.

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

Water sharing

MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde recently told a Shepparton forum South Australia's total share of Murray River water was delivered according to a monthly schedule that added up to 1850 gigalitres a year.

"In effect South Australia's system prioritises reliability of supply during times of low water availability, as is the case now, over receiving high volumes when water is plentiful," Mr Glyde told the forum.

"The arguments that are being made around this have nothing to do with the Basin Plan.

"The reason for the 1850 gigalitres is because under the original Murray River agreement in 1914 arrangements were set up to share water between Victoria, South Australia and NSW."

He said there were concerns about low flows, up and down the river.

"What our role is, and I think it's largely misunderstood, was that back in 1914 a deal was struck where SA ends up with a smaller allocation in a dry year, but SA wins, as it has a more secure amount, in a wet year.

"The reason that is still in place is because the states have not been able to reach a different agreement."

The Murray Darling Basin Authority was set up, as "three suspicious states did not trust each other to administer it.

"What they did is they went to the Commonwealth and said 'can we have a body, which will use our rules, to fairly allocate the water."

He said the other part of the agreement was to build locks, weirs and dams, to supply irrigation water.

"I know there is understandable frustration when you see SA entitlement holders getting 80 per cent, with zero general security, in NSW.

"But if you want to change that, if you want to do anything about it, you have to convince the three states to change it.

"That agreement is not a Basin Plan thing; it's a River Murray agreement."

Will it deliver?

And Shepparton independent MP Suzanna Sheed says she is concerned the official reaction to the Convoy to Canberra protest this week will not deliver for farmers in the Goulburn- Murray Irrigation District.

"I'm not sure what exactly Minister Littleproud put on the table other than another review," Ms Sheed said.

"There have already been over 35 reviews, and the government is yet to take up any recommendations, including that of the Productivity Commission."

She said thousands of farmers, representing tens of thousands of their peers and members of their communities took the time to go to Canberra and strongly voice their frustration with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

"But what did they get for it?," Ms Sheed said.

The quick reaction to the protests by federal National Party members the National Farmers Federation and other peak bodies was to be welcomed.

"The federal government has asked state governments to help strengthen the powers of the Water Inspector General Mick Kealty - but what are these powers and how will they help solve the water crisis?," Ms Sheed said.

"It is so important that issues like compliance, flood plain harvesting and the rollout of metering in NSW is closely monitored.

"We need a clear statement from Minister Littleproud of what he has agreed to so everyone who attended the protest can fully understand his stated position."

Ms Sheed said she remained supportive of much of the work being done at a Victorian Government level on inter-valley transfers and water market transparency, including the examination of the role of speculators and water brokers.

Long battle

Rally co-organiser and Speak Up Campaign chair Shelley Scoullar said for the first time since the organisation was formed as a voice for rural communities, more then four years ago, she felt it was heading in the right direction.

"It has been a long, hard battle," Ms Scoullar said.

"It should never have reached the point where we had to get over 2,000 angry farmers and their community supporters to travel to Canberra in protest.

"The battle is not won yet and we are not getting ahead of ourselves."

She said for the first time since the Basin Plan was first mooted, more than a decade ago, irrigators had some hope.

"We look forward to working with Mr Littleproud, Mr Keelty and their teams to ensure the changes that are needed to protect our communities and our nation's food security are put in place," Mrs Scoullar said.

SRI Deputy Chair Darcy Hare, who was part of the delegation, said to have a candid discussion with the Minister behind closed doors and come out of it "batting on the same team" was "a huge undertaking from the Minister that I did not expect".

"He has assured us the Inspector-General is going to look at various aspects of state and federal water sharing, and he will be asking the states to give the Inspector-General the powers he needs to fix the Basin Plan.

"This is a huge win for us, and if the states are serious about developing a fair and equitable Plan that protects our food producers, communities and the environment, they will give him the powers he needs," Mr Hare said.

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