The Goulburn Valley dairy industry is reaching the end of its tether in trying to cope with reduced irrigation water from natural reductions and from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, a new report has warned.
While the industry has become more efficient, and farmers have adapted to drought threats, ‘‘many farmers will have now exhausted most of their affordable options for coping with water scarcity ...’’.
The report, commissioned by the Victorian Government, also warns that while the Connections project is aimed at improving efficiencies, there has been a steady decline in water deliveries in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, meaning that Goulburn-Murray Water will still have to recover its fixed costs from a smaller pool.
The new report validates an earlier one by a Goulburn-Murray-based water group.
Leadership group member David McKenzie said the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had been dismissing the report.
‘‘This work will make it impossible to ignore and they must recognise the socio-economic impact on northern Victoria and recognise it is more than anticipated when they did their modelling,’’ Mr McKenzie said.
‘‘The 450Gl of up-water cannot be delivered without significant damage and disruption to the regional areas of Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
‘‘It’s time for all stakeholders and leaders to have some honest discussions about what is really happening here. It’s time to get real.’’
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said while the findings of the report were sobering, it validated the government’s approach to achieving a basin plan that worked.
‘‘A plan that works is one that is deliverable, adaptable and one that works for everyone,’’ Ms Neville said.
‘‘This study shows that our approach will ensure we deliver our obligations under the plan and improve the river’s health in a way that is not detrimental to local communities.
‘‘Agriculture is the powerhouse of the Victorian economy and we must balance the competing needs of agriculture and the environment.’’
VFF president David Jochinke chaired the Echuca meeting last week where the report was released.
He said the VFF applauded Ms Neville for not wavering on the government’s commitment to back irrigators by stating the 450Gl was not recoverable and committing to avoid buybacks for future recovery, including for the 650Gl sustainable diversion limit.
‘‘The minister’s position is well founded because the report recognises the basin plan has reduced annual average milk production by an incredible 30 per cent,’’ Mr Jochinke said.
‘‘If the 450Gl was recovered, horticulture high-reliability dependence could rise 11 per cent to a total 51 per cent of Victorian water, which puts horticultural land at significant risk of being dried off during low allocation years.’’
Mr Jochinke said the report recognised the disproportionate contribution Victoria made to the Commonwealth’s water recovery plan through the purchase of high-reliability water shares, increasing Victoria’s vulnerability in low allocation years.