Most irrigators across the NSW Murray Darling Basin have received low or no allocations against their general security entitlements in a disappointing start to the new water year.
“Despite relatively wet conditions, the fact is rain has just not fallen in the right places to fill storages such as Hume in the south and Copeton in the north,” said NSW Irrigators’ Council (NSWIC) CEO, Claire Miller.
“While allocations should improve as the season progresses, particularly if the Indian Ocean delivers forecast conditions for a wet winter and spring, it is nonetheless a disappointing start.
“But climate is not the only issue – today’s opening allocations also demonstrates the need to crack open the allocation black-box and identify the multiple policy drivers that are cumulatively eroding the reliability of water licences held by irrigators and the environment.”
Drivers include the Barmah-Millewa Environment Allowance’s rigid payback rules that disadvantage NSW general security water holders. New and larger high priority reserve requirements must now also be met before water can trickle to irrigators.
“Today’s opening allocations illustrate the hierarchy of water needs in practice,” Ms Miller said. “Towns have water, the rivers are running, but irrigators who are last in the queue, are still missing out and our regional communities are taking the socioeconomic hit.”
The Border Rivers, Gwydir, lower Namoi, Macquarie and Lachlan valleys all have a 0% general security opening allocation. NSW Murray general security has opened with just 3%, and the Murrumbidgee with 30%. On a more positive note, recent floods filling Menindee Lakes have given Lower Darling River irrigators a 100% allocation.¹
NSWIC has called for an investigation into declining water reliability particularly in the southern connected systems. “Many valleys which used to have reasonably reliable general-security are now highly unreliable, and we need to get to the bottom of that,” Ms Miller said. “Climate change is not the only driver.”
Research conducted by NSWIC shows that NSW Murray General Security licence holders were allocated, on average, 81% of their licence volume before the Millennium Drought. Their licence reliability is now around 48%. In the Namoi valley in the northern Basin, General Security reliability has similarly declined from 77% to around 39%.