Win for irrigators at MinCo meeting

By Alana Christensen

No water will be recovered from Victorian and NSW irrigators as Murray-Darling Basin states work to recover 62Gl towards the controversial 450Gl of ‘up-water’ target.

In what is being dubbed a ‘‘major win’’, state and federal water ministers reached the consensus at Friday’s Ministerial Council (MinCo) meeting in Canberra.

The basin’s first priority will now be implementing efficiency measures to recover 62Gl towards the ‘up-water’ by June 2019, ensuring 605Gl — to be recovered through a suite of approved projects by 2024 — can legally be returned to the consumptive pool.

Further work will go into assessing the socio-economic impacts of delivering the 450Gl, which can only be delivered if it results in a positive or neutral socio-economic impact.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville had argued the current participation test, which measures socio-economic harm on an individual farmer basis, was ‘‘inadequate’’ and did not reflect the true impact that water taken from the system has had.

Additional criteria will likely take into account wider regional impacts and the impact of cumulative implementation of programs, with a final decision expected by the end of the year.

Victoria will contribute a total of 9Gl to the 62Gl target as a result of efficiency upgrades, including channel upgrading, improved system viability and pipe lining for stock and domestic supplies in Victoria.

No water will be recovered through on-farm infrastructure works in Victoria or NSW as part of the agreed plan, with South Australia, Queensland and the ACT to undertake on-farm projects instead.

Urban, industrial, off-farm and water metering infrastructure within those states will form the cornerstone of reaching the 62Gl target.

Federal Water Minister David Littleproud declared the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was now back on track.

‘‘We all took a leap of faith with one another, and the two million Australians who live in the basin can breathe easier,’’ he said.

‘‘In the meantime, let’s get cracking on the off-farm, urban and industrial projects and begin delivering water towards the 450Gl total from those projects.’’

Irrigators have welcomed the outcome, with State Member for Shepparton and Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair Suzanna Sheed labelling the outcome the big first step towards delivering the basin plan as a ‘‘genuine triple-bottom line reform’’.

‘‘The basin ministers listened, and today put politics aside in favour of a sensible and measured way forward to avoid imposing further hardship on our region, while still seeking more water for our rivers,’’ Ms Sheed said.