Water

Fixed charges to be waived

By Country News

Irrigators will benefit from the latest NSW Government Drought Relief Package through the waiving of fixed government water charges on their next water bills.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland said the government’s fixed fee component on water bills could add up to several thousand dollars for many irrigators.

‘‘The fixed fees apply regardless of whether we have access to or use any water,’’ Mrs Coupland said.

‘‘In a year like this with zero per cent general security allocations in the NSW Murray and no access to water, those water bills can be pretty confronting — particularly if the drought continues and we stay on zero.

‘‘Waiving these fees is acknowledgement that it is not only livestock producers or dryland croppers that are suffering through this drought.

‘‘The government has clearly tried to develop a drought package, including extending the Farm Innovation Fund, that is fair across all ag producers to help now and for preparedness for the future.’’

Mrs Coupland said another initiative the government could put in place for irrigators was to release some water to enable people to finish the winter crops that were already in the ground.

‘‘We acknowledge that there are crops across the state that have been planted in the hope of winter rain and they are all now at a critical stage. It is money spent that may not be recovered.

‘‘But irrigators are in an enviable position because our crops can be finished through human intervention and can contribute to the dwindling feed stock reserves to help drought-stricken farmers across NSW and Queensland.

‘‘As irrigators, we don’t need to wait for the rain, we just need to wait for the allocation — and there are ways that some water can be made available.

‘‘We know the CEWH (Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder) has the legal capacity to be able to trade its water, so we are calling on state and federal environmental managers to get together and look at the entire pool of water available to them at the earliest possible opportunity to evaluate if there is some excess that can be traded or borrowed so we can finish those winter crops.

‘‘Another option that has occurred in the past is for the government to work with responsible agencies to be able to borrow water this year that is held in upper storages, such as the Snowy Scheme, in reserve for future years.

‘‘We are prepared to beg, borrow or buy water to finish our crops and we will work with any government or agency to design the best way to achieve that.’’