Environmental water loan a no go: environmentalists

By Alana Christensen

Environmentalists have thrown cold water on a plan to loan environmental water to irrigators to see them through the drought, saying the environment is also desperate for water.

Calls to divert water to farmers to allow them to grow hay and fodder have gained momentum in recent weeks as drought conditions in NSW and Queensland continue to worsen.

The dry winter continues to affect northern Victoria also, with below-average rainfall recorded and farmers beginning to offload stock and cattle as they struggle to feed them.

Politicians are throwing their weight behind the idea, calling on environmental water holders to allow the water to be traded, hopefully reducing pressure on temporary water markets which are currently seeing water sold for more than $300/Ml in the Goulburn pool, according to Waterpool Co-op.

Although acknowledging the tough conditions farmers are facing, Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers campaign manager Juliet Le Feuvre said assurances the water would be ‘‘borrowed’’ for a short time could not be made.

‘‘We have no idea how long this drought will go on for. It could be years before the water is given back,’’ she said.

When asked what her response was to comments that rivers and wetlands would normally be dry in drought conditions, Ms Le Feuvre said the environment got hit with a ‘‘double whammy’’ in these conditions as not only did water not naturally flow down, but the rivers and wetlands suffered as a result of water being saved for irrigation.

Although environmentalists have cautioned against the plan, politicians have thrown their support behind it.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville announced her support for the plan, saying she had spoken with Federal Water Minister David Littleproud to urge him to call on the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to explore ways to make more water available for farmers.

Ms Neville has also called on the Victorian Environmental Water Holder to do the same and asked DELWP to consider the most efficient use of water.

‘‘We’ve asked for any available environmental water to be traded to farmers in Victoria and we would like the Federal Government to do the same,’’ Ms Neville said.

The calls have been echoed by State Member for Shepparton and Goulburn Murray Irrigation District water leadership co-chair Suzanna Sheed who said farmers across the region were becoming increasingly anxious.

‘‘The lack of winter rain and a predicted dry spring means the current crops in the ground could fail... We are hearing that some dairy farmers are already culling their herds because of the threat they are under from the impending fodder shortage,’’ Ms Sheed said.