Irrigation Myth Busters
Irrigation farmers use too much water
Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) are now in place – this was a crucial component of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. SDLs limit the surface and groundwater quantities that can be taken from the Basin water resources. The quantity of groundwater and surface water that can be taken is limited based on the best available science. The SDL’s were put in place in 2019 following a decade of work and research by the commonwealth government to ensure irrigation farmers do not utilise too much water and stress the Basin’s river systems.
Irrigation farmers use water in extreme droughts
Farmers use water based on their water licence. Water licences are rights to an ongoing share of water within a water system. However, allocation amounts (the actual amount of water they can use) varies depending on the type of water licence and the amount of water available in the system. In periods of drought there is limited water in the system therefore farmers receive reduced allocations or, as experienced by many general security licence holders across the basin currently, no allocation at all.
Irrigated crops are still grown in droughts
Farmers may choose to grow irrigated crops in a period of drought depending on the amount of water they are allocated or have carried over from previous water years. Water Licence allocations can be used in one water year or be managed so the same amount of water is used over several years. This practice is good for farm business, their employees and their communities. However, Area planted to cotton is foretasted to fall by 82% in 2019-20 to 61,000 hectares because of low supplies of irrigation water and insufficient levels of soil moisture to plant dryland cotton.
Cotton and Rice are not suited to Australian conditions
Cotton and rice are seasonally planted during the summer months. If there is no water, these crops are not grown, and thus don’t require water. This is done to ensure that the crop has the best conditions for growth in order to produce the most efficient yield. Seasonal crops provide a lot more flexibility than permanent plantings such as orchards which require a highly reliable supply of water in order to survive.
Irrigation farmers contribute to the costs of looking after rivers, including water quality monitoring and flood mitigation
Farmers pay for 80% of capital expenses and 100% of their share of operational expenses for WaterNSW and WAMC’s. This includes vital measures such as water quality monitoring, and flood mitigation for towns.
The Murray Darling basin plan hasn’t achieved anything for the environment
The Murray Darling Basin Plan has recovered 20% of agricultural water for the environment, leaving less than one third of the Basin’s water for farmers. Since the start of the Plan the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office has recovered 2,851.393 GL or 5.7 Sydney Harbours of water for the environment.
Floodplain harvesting only occurs during times of flood
As the name suggests, floodplain harvesting only occurs during a flood.
The NSW Government introduced Flood Plain Harvesting policy to prevent unconstrained flood plain harvesting by bringing in a licensing framework. This policy is currently under review by the NSW Government and the MDBA to ensure water take is restricted to 2000 levels and to provide for a rigorous, staged approach in monitoring of floodplain harvesting.