Irrigators say they've been cheated of water savings

VFF buys into water savings questions, raised by irrigators, opposition

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Water
DUD DEAL: Durham Ox irrigator Chris Harrison says he wants the state government to stick with an original deal, to deliver high-reliability water shares.

DUD DEAL: Durham Ox irrigator Chris Harrison says he wants the state government to stick with an original deal, to deliver high-reliability water shares.

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Irrigators, opposition seek answers on how much Connections water is to be returned.

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The Victorian Farmers Federation has bought into claims by northern irrigators that they've been cheated out of water savings, promised as part of the first stage of a $2 billion deal to reduce losses in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District.

Under the deal, authorities identified 225 gigalitres of water savings, from the Food Bowl Modernisation project, the forerunner of the $2billion Connections works.

Irrigators were promised 75 gigalitres of high security water, once the entire project was finished.

Now, the independent Irrigators Share Consultative Committee has reported the long term long-term annual average yield, from savings, equates to 61GL of high reliability water shares and 28GL low reliability shares.

Durham Ox irrigator Chris Harrison has slammed the decision, saying low reliability shares were "blue sky water" - unrealistic and impractical - as that category hasn't been allocated since 1997.

"I would have liked to have seen them honor their promises," Mr Harrison said.

"They promised not high reliability water, but ultra high reliability water," Mr Harrison said.

Irrigators, Melbourne Water and the environment, were each to be allocated 75GL, long term average yield, with farmers getting their share at the completion of the project.

In 2007, former Premier Steve Bracks wrote to the Victorian Farmers Federation, promising irrigators their share of water, saved under the Foodbowl Modernisatoin Project.

"As the savings are generated through distribution losses, this water will be available, every year the system operates, whether it is at 100 per cent, 75pc, or 40pc (of high-reliability water shares)," Mr Bracks said in the letter, to former president Simon Ramsey.

He went on to say irrigators shares from Stage One of the project, "and any subsequent water savings, will be accrued as additional water entitlement for irrigators in the form of a water share.

"Irrigator's shares of savings will be issued as additional high-reliability water shares, as systems are modernised."

But irrigators said that was at odds with the recommendations of the Irrigators' Share Consultative Committee, headed up by former National Party MP Paul Weller.

The analysis of the long-term annual average yield of 75GL, over zones 1A, six and seven, came up with a total 61GL high-reliability water shares and 28GL low-reliability shares.

This was broken down into 28GL HRWS and 13LRWS in Zone 1A; 12 HRWS and six LRWS in Zone Six and 21 HRWS and nine LRWS in Zone Seven.

The ISCC has recommended irrigators with more than 0.25 delivery shares should receive a mix of 4 megalitres of high reliability and 1.8ML of low-reliability shares.

Irrigators holding less than 0.25 of a delivery share will receive the financial value of the water shares, as a credit against their Goulburn-Murray Water bill

About 5000 Goulburn-Murray Water customers, or nearly 50percent, fall below the 0.25ML/day threshold.

About 40pc of customers hold 0.1 ML/d of delivery shares or less.

But the committee warned the exact amount and mix of entitlements irrigators could receive would not be known, until after all the works were completed and the water recovery confirmed.

The value of the irrigators share of the savings is estimated at about $300million.

VFF Water Council chairman Richard Anderson, who is a member of the ISCC, said farmer were right to point out the past promises of Premier Bracks and Minister Brumby .

"There was an expectation that these water savings would all be high reliability water shares, in fact Mr Brumby gave public assurances," Mr Anderson said.

"Disappointingly, it's been proposed these savings will be returned as mix of high and low reliability water shares. The VFF has written to the Victorian Water Minister, seeking an explanation.

"The savings need to be distributed across GMID irrigators who own delivery shares and pay for the upkeep of the irrigation network."

Mr Anderson said the VFF would continue to represent farmers on the ISCC and work to ensure a just outcome was reached.

Read more:

Irrigators urged to have their say on the 75GL water savings

Irrigators worried they won't see Connections savings for years.

Savings questioned

Mr Weller said he'd been told by former ministers irrigators would receive 5ML of HRWS when Connections was completed.

But he said offering a mix of high and low-reliability water shares indicated the savings, from modernisation, were not as significant as had been first thought.

"They haven't saved 225GL of high-reliability water, " Mr Weller said.

"At the time I told (former Regional Development and Water Ministers) John Brumby and Tim Holding that would happen.

"They were going to issue it as high-reliability water shares, but they are distributing it as high and low-reliability shares, which means they haven't saved the water."

He said the water wasn't there.

"Brumby was wrong at the time, I told him he was wrong, but he wouldn't listen to me," Mr Weller said.

Opposition Water spokeswoman Steph Ryan said the government was trying to cheat irrigators out of some of the 75GL.

She agreed Mr Brumby promised that when the water was returned there would be "an extra 75GL of new HRWS for farmers every year".

"Irrigators were pushed to the back of the queue when this deal was made," Ms Ryan said.

"Under John Brumby's plan, Melbourne and the environment got its water first.

"Now that water is supposed to be returned to irrigators, Lisa Neville is cheating them of the full amount they're owed," she said.

GMID irrigators should reject Labor's plan to swindle them out of the savings they were promised, she said.

Durham Ox wool producer Chris Harrison said there'd been no LRWS deliveries since 1997.

He said returning low-reliability water was "blue sky water."

Replacement of Dethridge wheels had not resulted in the water savings, promised under Connections.

'The amount of water we have lost through this water savings programs doesn't match up to what they are giving back," he said.

"The average farmer has 10pc less physical water than he or she did, before Connections."

Mr Harrison said he believed the old Dettridge wheels were accurate, while many irrigators had been forced to take over channels, incurring losses through seepage and evaporation.

"The losses that have used to run in those spur channels have been transferred to irrigators," he said.

"We had infrastructure, before this, which delivered water every year, so I can't see any benefit, of it all."

Since modernisation, the maximum amount of water the Loddon Valley could receive had fallen from 1900ML a day to 1600ML.

"The government has taken water off irrigators; now they expect us to be grateful," he said.

Reject proposal

Fernihurst mixed farmer Ken Pattison called on the Victorian Farmers Federation to reject the proposal, as it didn't comply with what representatives Richard Anderson and Geoff Akers agreed to, in negotiations on the return of water.

"It's inconsistent with the commitments and undertakings by the VFF and the former Premier," Mr Pattison said.

"We've got to the other end of the show, and we've been dudded."

He said a properly maintained and Dethridge wheel, run within its design parameters, met the national metering standards.

Read more:

Dethridge wheel data will force savings revision

"And how can you get a water-saving from a LRWS, when its never delivered?

"There's a major hole in their 75GL saving; you can't calculate a saving on something that hasn't got an allocation."

But retired dairy farmer Dudley Bryant, who was involved in negotiating the deal with Mr Brumby said the actual amount , and the make up of the allocation, each irrigator would receive was never discussed.

"It was never discussed as to how it was going to happen, but I was always strong on the fact that it would go to the irrigators," Mr Bryant said.

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said the water would be returned as HRWS and LRWS as the savings came from different sources.

"Some of it will be gained by through individual projects that may only have LRWS," Mr Anderson said.

He said when the promise was made to return only HRWS it appeared that there seemed to be some misunderstanding as to how much water could be saved, and from what sources.

"It's easy to say things when you don't know what sources of water the savings are coming from, when some of it is probably from LRWS," he said.

It was "splitting hairs" to suggest the water returned to irrigators should be "higher than high-reliability shares."

He said most irrigators he had spoken to were happy with the recommendation.

"I think, more importantly than anything else, is when we can get this water," he said.

"Some of it has already gone through audit and verification protocols, and I I think some of that ought to be available, as a first tranche."

He said irrigators should not expect all the water to be distributed, once the project was completed.

"Once again, people don't understand there is an audit protocol and verification of that audit protocol," he said.

"You have to verify the savings that are already there."

He said he expected most irrigators to use the water, rather than sell it.

"I know I am," he said.

Water Minister Lisa Neville said there were specific timelines, as to when the water could be recovered.

She said the former National Party Water Minister agreed to a timeline, that meant water could only be returned to irrigators, once the Connections Project was finalised.

"I am aware how important this water will be for many irrigators, that's why I committed to a consultation process about how the water is distributed fairly and to what extent I could I negotiated with the Commonwealth about any early release," Ms Neville said.

"I am sure the opposition Water spokeswoman is aware of this and should not be trying to play politics with this important decision.

John Brumby and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning have been contacted for comment.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is current seeking feedback from delivery share holders in the GMID as to the proposed approach to distributing the irrigators share.

https://engage.vic.gov.au/irrigators-share

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