MinCo a lost opportunity, says irrigator

MinCo a lost opportunity, says irrigator

Water
CAN THE PLAN: Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association representative Jan Beer, Yea, said she still believed the Basin Plan must be stopped.

CAN THE PLAN: Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association representative Jan Beer, Yea, said she still believed the Basin Plan must be stopped.

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Murray-Darling Basin Plan no longer fit for purpose, says irrigator.

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The Brisbane water minister's meeting has been described as a "massive lost opportunity" by one of the organisers of the recent convoy to Canberra.

Federal and state ministers agreed to look at constraints measures, but could not reach consensus on investigation of the water sharing agreement.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the state had led the way in securing greater protections for irrigators and the environment.

"Our irrigators have had very real concerns about how the water we've worked so hard to deliver can realistically be moved throughout the Basin, without causing further damage to the environment or communities," Ms Neville said.

"We need to make sure we do not turn our rivers into a superhighway for delivering water, which is why it's so important we limit new extractions and come up with a better, community-led plan to move water past the constraints.

"I'm also happy to see other states follow Victoria's lead when it comes to increasing transparency in the water markets and proper investigation into overseas ownership and monopoly behaviour - so everyone can be reassured the market is working for, and not against, the irrigators who rely on it."

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But southern Riverina irrigator John Lolicato said while the convoy to Canberra group welcomed the clear admissions of failing government policy, it was a massive lost opportunity to review the Murray Darling Basin Agreement.

"It is no longer fit for purpose," Mr Lolicato said.

"It was written in 1915 at a time where monthly targets were necessary and predicated on paddle steamers. as they were the building blocks for river communities.

"While over the years there have been a number of minor changes to the agreement, the water being sent downstream is meeting targets set for a different era."

He said the massive volumes of water, being sent down the Murray River, were well above the volume the natural constraints of the system allowed.

He said all that was requested of Basin Plan Interim Inspector-General Mick Keelty was for him to investigate water under the agreement that was no longer required.

That included the loss and dilution component, South Australian carryover on an already high security licence and increased transmission losses, which were occurring as governments tried to get an ever increasing volume of water downstream.

IG role

Mr Keelty still had scope to make states and federal agencies compliant, which includes targets such as 210GL of floodplain harvesting for the northern basin and using the best available science for the Lower Lakes management.

"The need for this effective management became even more evident when it was highlighted recently that 54 per cent of all available water to southern NSW, Victoria and South Australia is currently sitting at the lower end of the system," Mr Lolicato said.

Mr Lolicato said if the additional 450 gigalitres of 'upwater' could not come from Victoria or NSW, as the states claimed, it should be removed from the Plan.

"It will not fit down the system, as we have been saying for many years and reports now confirm, and would also have massive impacts on our regional communities, which are extremely important as they grow food and fibre for this nation," he said.

The reassessment of the deliverability of the Sustainable Diversion Limit projects and their contribution to the 605GL was welcomed.

Mr Lolicato pointed out the Basin Plan targeted figures that have been proposed were "simply unachievable".

"With many of the business cases, the community hasn't had the opportunity to be assess them, and the few that have been published will impact on reliability of owned water entitlements in some valleys," Mr Lolicato said.

"These slight changes in direction by MinCo are important, but what they highlight is that these are all symptoms of a bad plan.

"The 450GL and 605GL are two key aspects of this Basin Plan that states have finally admitted are not delivering for the triple bottom line."

Can the Plan

Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association representative Jan Beer, Yea, said she still believed the Basin Plan must be stopped.

Ms Beer said the remaining $4.8 billion set aside for its implementation should be quarantined.

That would allow what she said were the Plan's fundamental flaws and mistakes, which were having an impact on food producers, to be rectified.

"The plan has failed on every conceivable level," Ms Beer said.

It had destroyed the beds and banks of the main river systems and water quality, by encouraging carp proliferation and increased hypoxic black water events.

"Economically [it has] removed 30 per cent of water from the productive consumptive pool and allowed an open water market policy, where water is traded as a commodity similar to the share market, which has created extreme water prices unsustainable for agricultural production."

Ms Beer said there had also been a domino effect on reliant businesses, that had destroyed communities and removed all hope of survival by many regional communities.

"Since 2012 we have been constantly telling politicians and bureaucrats that a Constraints Strategy would not work," she said.

"For six to seven years we have repeatedly stated that 80,000 megalitres/day to the South Australian border was unviable and unachievable.

"So finally at the expense to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars (about $700,000 to be spent by 2018-2019 according to the Special Amendment Act), it has been publicly stated this water cannot be delivered."

Read more: Goulburn constraints plan dumped

Ms Beer said the federal government, with the backing of the states, put the open market policy in place, whereby water use goes to the highest bidder.

"Now they have seen the results and say it's 'inappropriate'," she said.

"So fix it, by buying back the water required for food production and ensure it can only remain in zones to where it is allocated and introduce specific rules on ability to trade that water out of those zones."

She said Mr Littleproud should now stop spruiking that the Basin Plan " will be delivered in full and on time".

VFF welcome

The Victorian Farmers Federation welcomed decisions made at MinCo.

Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said Victorian farmers would be pleased to see the states agreeing to address deliverability issues in the Lower Murray.

"Over the last 18 months the VFF has expressed great concerns towards deliverability risks in the Mallee due to increased developments placing pressure on existing irrigators," Mr Anderson said.

Read more: Basin states acknowledge lower Murray horticultural growth stress

Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia would now work together to address deliverability shortfalls, with NSW and SA also agreeing to review new license applications.

"This is a big win for existing irrigators to ensure they are sufficiently protected during dry times, its pleasing to see all three states have listened to the calls of the VFF," Mr Anderson said.

"We know at current demand levels there are risks of delivery shortfalls.

"As plants mature these risks will be even greater so it's important we start to address this problem now."

The VFF argued, leading up to the meeting that the Inspector General should not be granted expanded powers to review the Murray Darling Sharing Agreement.

"The Northern Basin Review, recently completed by the IG, has shown the office lacks understanding of water issues and cannot handle the water management complexities associated with the Sharing Agreement," Mr Anderson said.

"The VFF is supportive of the IG fulfilling his compliance function that was agreed at Ministerial Council in August this year, but a referral of powers from the states to the Commonwealth would be utterly inappropriate."

Mr Anderson said the VFF was also pleased that ,ministers acknowledged the problems with the Constraints projects and unrealistic time frames proposed under the Basin Plan.

Ditch constraints

But the state opposition water spokeswoman Steph Ryan said Labor's 'window dressing' didn't go far enough for Basin communities.

"[Premier] Daniel Andrews and Lisa Neville are kicking the can on the Basin Plan down the road again," Ms Ryan said.

The minister's response fell short of what communities expected.

"Communities have accepted that these constraints are immovable," she said.

"It's time the minister did too."

In failing to acknowledge the constraints management strategy could not be implemented, the government - along with the Commonwealth and other Basin states - had conceded they were still working on the false assumption huge volumes of environmental water could be pushed down the river.

"It's time to throw the constraints management strategy in the bin and rethink how much water the environment can realistically deliver," Ms Ryan said.

"It's also disappointing that yet again, the minister has walked away from MinCo without securing agreement from New South Wales and South Australia for a moratorium on new irrigation developments.

"Without agreement from NSW and SA, Victoria's decision to refer all water licence applications to the minister for the next 12 months will only drive development over the river and see more water leave northern Victoria."

The minister also missed an opportunity to raise the expansion of Lake Buffalo, which could achieve substantial water savings if a tri-state agreement with NSW and SA could be reached.

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