Many irrigators are feeling heavy-hearted with reports released today revealing the extent of cutbacks to flood water access for irrigators, under new regulations set to commence on 1 July.
The technical reports released today for the Gwydir Valley show that the soon to be introduced policy will cutback floodplain harvesting in that valley by 30.4%, with average annual diversions reduced from 174GL to just 121GL.
CEO of the NSW Irrigators’ Council, Claire Miller, said “The extent of the cutbacks will be very difficult news for the impacted irrigators, however, they continue engaging in the process in good-faith to return usage to sustainable limits.”
“Implementation of the policy will mean 52.9GL of floodwater which could previously be stored by farmers, must now remain on floodplains – and this figure is just for one valley.”
The Environmental Outcomes Report shows the policy will achieve important outcomes for native vegetation, native fish and waterbirds, and important ecosystems functions on floodplains. This includes for the Ramsar listed wetlands in the valley.
“The Policy is about modernising water management to be transparent and accountable under one framework, and this means bringing floodplain harvesting up to these modern standards by requiring licencing, metering and compliance with sustainable limits.”
“This is not new water, this is simply better regulating existing water access with improved transparency and accountability, including compliance with sustainable extraction limits by reducing this form of water access.”
“Irrigators accept the upcoming regulations which will deliver important environmental and regulatory outcomes, but it won’t be without impact.”
The reform was first initiated by the Labor Government over a decade ago, and has been many years in the making, with extensive modelling and independent review.
“Water is a limited resource, and volumetric licences gives government a new compliance mechanism to ensure the volume of water used by irrigators is sustainable, controlled and shared equitably.”
Ms Miller highlighted that unlike previous water recovery efforts, such as the 20% reduction from direct water buybacks under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, this 30.4% reduction will not provide compensation to the impacted farmers, nor is it voluntary.
Whilst the Policy will provide some improvements to inflows into Menindee Lakes (annual average increase of 1.8%), the complex hydrology across vast and often dry landscapes leads the report to conclude “this additional volume has a negligible impact on diversion and/or allocations in the Lower Darling and Murray systems”.
“We still must contend with the reality that with climate change, floods will be fewer and further between, which means less floodwater access to everyone.”
“You need a flood to floodplain harvest, and unfortunately, we just aren’t seeing the floods we used to.”
“The biggest issue is climate change, and we need the highest regulatory standards to confront that reality, and that involves having floodplain harvesting managed on a volumetric basis like other forms of water take.”