Basin communities have cause for concern after an undisclosed amount of money was committed in the Federal Budget, apparently for further water buybacks to meet environmental water targets under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
“The news has sent a shiver down the spine of the irrigated agriculture sector and the Basin communities that depend on it,” said NSWIC CEO, Claire Miller.
“It was ironic to learn the Government wants to recover more water from farmers to put more water in rivers and floodplains, whilst emergency flood evacuation warnings for Basin communities were rolling across the screen.”
The Plan has already removed one in five litres of irrigation water (or almost one in three litres if pre-Basin Plan reforms are included). This has reduced diversions for irrigation, town and industry from 35% of Basin inflows to just 28%.
Environmental water managers are already struggling to deliver that water to meet objectives due to constraints such as being unable to deliberately inundate private property.
“As the Productivity Commission pointed out in 2018, more water could be recovered but would be unusable unless constraints are addressed first. For that, the Government needs the Basin community’s trust that it will not impose further hardship,” said Ms Miller.
“We call on Basin water Ministers to stay true to their words of wanting to work together. There are ways to deliver positive environmental outcomes without hurting communities.”
“But more buybacks leaving food and fibre production in an even more precarious position in the next drought are not one of them.”
“Government needs to clarify its intentions for this funding, for the sake of community trust.”
“We hope the intentions are more nuanced than a water grab, which they should have learnt from last time devastates Basin communities and industries, distorts water markets and drives up water costs, and puts pressures on food prices.”
“If governments are serious about addressing the cost of living in the cities, they need to think about what they’re doing to reduce input costs for producers, which drives prices for consumers.”
“Irrigators are the first to have their allocations cut when it turns dry, so buying their entitlements for the environment means the water is mostly available in the wet years only.”
“With a changing climate, government water policy needs to get more nuanced than the usual ‘just take it from irrigators’ approach, that won’t solve the real problems.”