Line in sand, at MinCo

Victoria calls for federal guarantees on water recovery projects

Irrigation
MINCO MEETING: Victoria's Water Minister Lisa Neville says she'll be standing up for the state, on further water recovery projects, at Friday's Ministerial Council meeting.

MINCO MEETING: Victoria's Water Minister Lisa Neville says she'll be standing up for the state, on further water recovery projects, at Friday's Ministerial Council meeting.

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Concerns over progress, transparency, on water recovery.

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Victoria will ask for federal government guarantees any new water recovery projects will have a positive socio-economic benefit for communities, at this week's Ministerial Council meeting.

Water Minister Lisa Neville says a renewed commitment to ensuring new projects have no negative consequences will be among the key issues she'll be raising.

"Unless the commonwealth guarantees all jurisdictions are meeting the criteria, it will be impossible for Victoria to continue to be involved any further," Ms Neville said.

"We have met our legal obligations, and anything further puts our communities at risk.

"As well as the substance of some projects - I hold significant concerns around the lack of transparency.

"I am concerned that these proposals result in water being transferred out of the consumptive pool - pushing up prices due to less water being available for other irrigators."

Ms Neville said she would be making sure all Basin states were clear about the impact of high flows and deliverability on Victorian water users.

"We see high flows damage the Murray and Goulburn Rivers and I'll be looking for action to mitigate real risks for entitlement holders, if we can't get water to irrigators when they need it,' she said.

"The Murray-Darling Basin Authority needs to run the system better - acknowledging these risks."

Ms Neville said there needed to be more work done on a "real world" approach to constraints, rather than the modelled results that didn't provide the confidence governments required to talk to communities.

'"The latest report on the Lower Lakes indicates due to climate change there will never be enough water to keep them fresh," Ms Neville said.

"And I want to see more action in the northern Basin on floodplain harvesting licences and compliance, so all the heavy lifting on delivering water isn't left to the Goulburn and Murray rivers."

The Victorian Farmers Federation has called for greater adaptability within the Murray Darling Basin Plan, to ensure farmers could once again farm with confidence and certainty, creating jobs to help recover from the COVID-19 economic disaster.

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said this week's meeting of Commonwealth and state water ministers is an opportunity to make essential changes to the Basin Plan.

"We need the Ministerial Council to focus on common-sense updates to the Plan to ensure farmers can produce food and create jobs."

The state opposition has rejected the MDBA's suggestion that more water will need to be taken from farmers to make up for shortcomings in water savings of on-ground projects.

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"Victorian irrigators have done the heavy lifting to return water to the environment," Water spokeswoman Steph Ryan said.

"It has pushed our Basin communities to breaking point.

"We can't afford to lose any more water."

She said the Productivity Commission warned in January last year about the risks of projects failing if the conflicting responsibilities of the MDBA were not split.

"There is no excuse for failing to act to ensure our farmers and Basin communities don't face further devastation due to the loss of more water."

She said this week's MinCo was an excellent opportunity for Victoria to stand up for its irrigators.

"Ms Neville must not miss this critical opportunity to stand up for Victorian irrigators by securing a guarantee from all Basin States to complete all on-ground projects, on time, so more water will not be taken away from our farmers."

And Independent Shepparton MP Suzanna Sheed said Basin governments must pivot the Plan, towards genuine adaptive management when they meet on Friday.

Ms Sheed, who is also co-chair of the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership group, said community expectations were high

"They expect some consensus and clarity on a range of pressing issues arising out of recent reports and recommendations,' Ms Sheed said.

"Any reform of a basin-wide scale will inevitably have unforeseen, unintended and perverse impacts.

"It is ridiculous for Basin governments to think they could set and forget the Plan for 14 years after it was enacted in 2012."

"Waiting to act until 2026 will be too late for Basin communities and industries.

The recent Independent Review of the Lower Lakes was a case in point, calling out fundamental issues:

. The nation is fighting a losing battle to achieve core Basin Plan objectives;

. The fight is going to get more difficult, not easier; and,

. Climate change and rising sea levels mean the Coorong, Lower Lakes, and Murray Mouth(CLLMM) targets, among others, were impossible to achieve, even if all diversions were halted.

She said GMID Water Leadership has written to Basin ministers urging leadership.

"Now is the time for a deeper reflection on what the nation is trying to achieve," co-convenor, David McKenzie said.

"This starts with an honest acceptance that the goalposts have moved since 2012, and it is futile to keep aiming for goals that cannot be met.

"What socio-economic cost will Basin industries and communities have to bear, as collateral damage for a futile ambition?

"Communities are exhausted, over-consulted, and desperate for action. Multiple reports confirm it is no

longer tenable to continue to implement the 2012 Plan as if its core targets are achievable.

"The Basin Ministerial Council on Friday must begin a mature national conversation. It cannot be delayed any longer."

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