Water sharing warning

By Geoff Adams

Victorian irrigation stakeholders are uneasy over a plan to have a Murray-Darling Basin ‘policeman’ given extra powers to examine water sharing arrangements between the states.

The proposal has created some friction between Victorian and NSW irrigators who marched on Canberra 10 days ago, protesting the damage being done to communities by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Victorians fear the examination of water sharing arrangements, which preceded the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, could lead to further risks to Victorian water security.

It is also seen as a distraction from bigger issues caused by the plan.

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said changing the way water was shared between the states would create uncertainty and risks Victoria’s water security.

“There is a finite amount of water available. This means increasing one state’s share is only possible by reducing the amount of water available to another,” Mr Anderson said.

“Re-carving the way water is shared between the states will only lead to greater uncertainty and puts Victoria’s conservative policy towards allocating water in jeopardy.

“Rather than wasting time on yet another review, Minister Littleproud needs to provide leadership that will restore balance and fairness to the basin plan debate.

“That includes bringing excessive floodplain harvesting in the northern basin under control and exploring the opportunity to build lock zero to stop 800 Gl of water evaporating in the Lower Lakes every year.”

The VFF is also warning that the further 450 Gl of ‘upwater’ cannot be delivered without causing massive social dislocation.

“Just as NSW have said they are unable to contribute towards the 450 Gl, neither can Victoria. It must therefore be scrapped,” Mr Anderson said.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said not another megalitre should come out of Victoria under the review, because the state had made the most significant contributions to the plan already.

“Most of our high security water was targeted from the very beginning,” Ms Sheed said.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has said the government would not support any change which had a negative impact on the state.

She said Victoria had a conservative allocation policy that, despite dry conditions, had resulted in some allocations being made available to entitlement holders this season.

The Federal Government wants the states to refer extended powers to Murray-Darling Basin acting inspector-general Mick Keelty to investigate water sharing arrangements.

Mr Keelty said he had spoken to a number of groups within the southern basin, where they were able to define the problems.

"It became clear to me that the problems are not simply the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but it also is some of the underlying policies,” he said.

"And those policies and the impact of those policies on the availability of water for these farmers.

"As the minister and others have said before, governments can't make rain and can't make water, but they can make policies, and one of the things that I will be doing over the course of the next four months, until March 31, is conducting an inquiry into the impact of those policies on water availability.”

The Northern Victorian Irrigation Communities says it will fight any attempt to take water from Victoria after the review.