SRI chair says more action, less talk is needed on water borrowing idea

By Rodney Woods

Federal Environment Minister and Member for Farrer Sussan Ley has put the idea of ‘water loaning’ back on the agenda, but it has not won over the Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman.

Ms Ley first raised the idea of irrigators in the mid-Murray being able to borrow stored environmental water to save failing winter crops, with a short-term loan from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, in August last year.

But she said the proposal could only be successful if the environmental water holder had ‘‘sufficient reserves’’ and all states in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan agreed.

‘‘The model for this was the successful ‘Snowy Borrow’, made available to irrigators in the NSW Murray Valley by Snowy Hydro in the 2016-17 water year,’’ she said.

‘‘Any proposal could only occur should there be sufficient reserves, and could not be at the expense of required environmental allocations.

‘‘While the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is able to trade water under existing legislation, the move will likely require a change to the federal rules and co-operation from state governments, including South Australia.’’

Ms Ley’s idea came after the available water during the drought had left NSW farmers with zero allocation.

SRI chair Chris Brooks said Ms Ley needed to do something about water rather than just discuss it.

‘‘Talking about it is not fixing anything,’’ Mr Brooks said.

‘‘She’s the Minister for Environment and she knows first-hand what farmers are going through.

‘‘The commonsense thing for people in this area is that if water is needed for production it should be used for that.

‘‘The CEWH didn’t have to use their water, our water was used, to water the environment.

‘‘Now I’m pleading to have some back.’’

SRI publicly backed independent Kevin Mack for Farrer in May’s federal election as the group tried to unseat incumbent Ms Ley.

However, Ms Ley held onto the seat with a seven per cent swing against her.