Climate change mitigation, as well as adaptation, is critical to protect water security for farming.
NSWIC supports an economy-wide target of net zero emissions by 2050, preferably earlier. NSWIC also adopts an aspirational target of carbon neutrality for the NSW irrigation sector by 2030, and calls for government investment for the irrigation sector to be part of the solution.
Climate change is undoubtedly one of the greatest risks to water security in the 21st Century, and one of the most significant risks to water security for irrigated agriculture in NSW.
Water management frameworks have automatic climate response mechanisms built in to change the amount of water allocated to water licences based on actual and forecast water availability.
Under these frameworks, irrigators are only allocated water for farming after higher priority water uses are supplied, if any water is leftover. With climate change, we are already seeing longer and more frequent periods where there is little or even no water leftover for farming.
Since irrigators are last in line for water, and first to have the tap switched off when conditions turn dry, irrigators are hit first and hardest by declining water availability.
We are already seeing this impact. Irrigators in the NSW Murray were allocated, on average, 81% of their general-security licence volume before the Millennium Drought but now their licence reliability is only around 48%. Similarly in the Namoi valley in the northern Murray-Darling Basin, reliability has declined from 77% to around 39%.
These trends reflect the fact annual average inflows have almost halved across the Basin over the last 20 years.
This makes climate change an issue of utmost concern for the NSW irrigation farming sector. We need government climate change policy to catch-up and keep-up, to ensure our global reputation for sustainable food and fibre production is not tarnished.