Water use granted

By Alana Christensen

Environmental water holders have answered farmers’ pleas, with a total of 35Gl of environmental water to be traded following weeks of campaigning from farmers and politicians for water to help see them through the drought.

Environmentalists have repeatedly voiced their opposition to the plan to divert environmental water to irrigation.

Last week the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Jody Swirepik, announced that 20Gl of environmental water would be sold in the Goulburn region with the NSW Government also announcing plans to trade 15Gl of water to irrigators.

The 20Gl will be available to Goulburn Valley irrigators, with Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum calling it ‘‘a start’’.

‘‘We were genuinely trying to put gentle pressure on to release more than 20Gl ... (but) now we’ve got 20 we’ve got to make sure we get that to the fodder producers potentially in the Goulburn Valley, but fodder producers full stop,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s up to us to ensure we get the water into the right areas, into the right industries.’’

The issue has sparked further debate, with newly appointed drought envoy and former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce facing off with environmentalists following his calls to divert more water to drought-stricken farmers.

Mr Joyce made the comments on ABC radio last week, with Australian Conservation Foundation’s Paul Sinclair hitting back.

‘‘Mr Joyce’s kneejerk and ill-informed reaction risks the health of flood plains, wetlands and wildlife, not to mention the communities downstream that rely on a living river for their livelihoods,’’ Dr Sinclair said.

He said water clawed back from irrigators cost the government billions, and needed to be used to make sure everyone could benefit from a healthy river.

As drought conditions up north worsen, and with more dry weather predicted, Speak Up campaign chair Shelley Scoullar said the fight to get more water for farmers continued.

‘‘We will continue to advocate strongly for governments to recognise that we have drought solutions staring us in the face, but they are being ignored for political reasons,’’ she said.

‘‘There is quite a lot of water in the dams which could be used to finish winter crops and grow fodder for other drought-stricken areas.

‘‘It is extremely unfortunate that as soon as any mention is made of using this water to benefit people and communities, politics and ideologies come into play.’’

■Further information regarding the water tender process is available at: environment.gov.au/water/cewo/trade