Riverina-based Murray Irrigation has announced it will distribute 53Gl of water to its customers immediately and free of charge.
The company’s board endorsed a management recommendation to make the water available to mitigate what it said were the dire circumstances being faced by its customer base.
The distribution, which has a current market value of about $28million, has been made on the back of a NSW Industry Department announcement on Friday that the allocation of water to farmers holding general security water licences would remain at zero for the year.
General security water licence holders dominate irrigated agriculture in the NSW Murray region.
Murray Irrigation said the department announcement had ‘‘crushed the hopes’’ of many Murray Irrigation customers who had relied on forecasts by the department early in the season of an allocation of up to 14 per cent this month.
The company said since that forecast, the department and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had ‘‘run the system at a rate that has generated what company chairman and farmer Phil Snowden believes are extraordinary and excessive losses that have deprived customers of what could amount to 200Gl or as much as 400Gl of water’’.
‘‘We first raised the issue formally with the NSW minister’s office in early December and it prompted him to ask his department for a review of losses, where they were attributed and how it might be improved,’’ Mr Snowden said.
‘‘As late as last week, we were advised by the MDBA that it was contributing to that ministerial response and that Murray Irrigation would be provided with a briefing note in time for most of its meetings with customers later this month,’’ he said.
If confirmed, the loss of 200Gl to irrigated agriculture would add further to calls for scrutiny of the water management decisions made by MDBA and the department, Murray Irrigation said.
Despite being Australia’s largest farmer-owned water delivery company, Murray Irrigation’s largest single customer operation is the delivery of environmental water.
‘‘Our criticism is not of the (Murray-Darling) Basin Plan specifically but in the decisions being made to run the system that delivers it,’’ Mr Snowden said.
■For more information, visit the Murray Irrigation website: www.murrayirrigation.com.au