NSW Irrigators’ Council (NSWIC) welcomes in-principle all but one of Labor’s five points in its Plan for the Murray-Darling Basin.
“Labor is on the right track with additional funding for metering and monitoring, implementing the ACCC water market integrity recommendations, increasing First Nations participation, and updating science on climate change impacts,” said NSWIC CEO Claire Miller.
“The point we don’t agree with is delivering another 450 GL to South Australia, for the simple reason it is undeliverable on several fronts.
“We have learnt many valuable lessons from the Basin Plan’s implementation since 2012. Most importantly we have learnt the limitations of trying to force reality to fit the Plan’s flawed model.
“We now look forward to all political parties across the Commonwealth and Basin States collaborating with Basin communities in good faith to deliver environmental outcomes without causing further socioeconomic hardship”.
The Plan does not mandate recovery of another 450 GL, not least because farmer participation is voluntary. One major reason so little water has been recovered so far is the economics of participation do not stack up.
“Water is so scarce and expensive now, and interest rates so low, that farmers find they are better off funding works themselves and benefiting from the water savings, rather than transferring entitlements to the environment in return for the Government funding,” said Ms Miller.
“Even if farmers do participate, the conservative cost estimate to get the 450GL this way is now more than $5 billion, well in excess of the $1.5 billion budget set aside in 2012.”
Buybacks aren’t an option for the 450 GL under the Basin Plan unless the States agree. And if all the above barriers can be overcome, legal, physical and operational constraints are in the way. That includes more than 4000 landholders in southern NSW alone agreeing to voluntary flood easements to deliver the 2100 GL already recovered, much less another 450.
The official five-yearly assessment of the Plan’s implementation found that: “If constraints projects are not implemented as expected, rushing to recover the full 450 GL by 2024 would risk the Australian Government spending hundreds of millions of dollars for an asset that (potentially) cannot be used for some time.”
It also found that: “Recovering water through efficiency measures has become increasingly divorced from the environmental outcomes it is meant to achieve” and “there is little evidence that it has been designed to recover water in the places needed to effectively achieve the enhanced environmental outcomes”.