A proposal to exempt commercial forestry projects from limits on water use, as part of a carbon farming initiative, goes against decades of water reform.
“There can be no special treatment for one sector over another,” said NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO, Claire Miller.
“The water regulation framework has to apply to everyone. Governments can’t pick and choose who abides by the law and who does not, irrespective of the merits of the intended water use.”
Under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, all water use, whether by diversion or interceptions (i.e. forestry) must collectively be within Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs).
But the Emissions Reduction Division of the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is now proposing to allow increased water interception for forestry.
“We are not opposed to improving carbon farming opportunities, far from it, but it must be recognised that, like all forms of agriculture, growing trees requires water.
“The burden of water recovery has so far fallen almost entirely on irrigated agriculture; no recovery has occurred by reducing interceptions, even though they are included in SDLs, too.
“Letting forestry use more water inevitably means other users will have to be cut back. It is particularly insensitive when the Government separately has put more buybacks from farmers on the table for the Basin Plan.
“This proposal goes against the spirit of decades of water reform, which has sought to manage and regulate every form of water extraction consistently, fairly and equitably through the clear, transparent and agreed National Water Initiative.
“Forestry should be subject to the same water management rules and requirements as everyone else – no exceptions, or preferential treatment.”
The irrigation sector in NSW has set an aspirational target for carbon neutrality of the industry by 2030. The irrigation sector in NSW has complied with SDLs since they came into effect; in fact, overall water use is an average 16% below the SDL across the NSW Basin.
“This proposal goes against the equitable, fair and sustainable sharing of water resources as a core principle. Go back to the drawing board and come back with ways to support carbon farming initiatives that comply with water rules and regulations,” said Ms Miller.