Feds late to water party

By Geoff Adams

A call to do something about water recovery policies has spurred the Federal Government into action, with consultations with irrigators and communities expected to start this week.

Just two weeks ago a Goulburn Valley-based water group developed its own set of criteria for water recovery under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Irrigation communities have been waiting since June for Federal Government departments to develop the criteria and, tired of waiting, the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group produced its own set of tests.

The Victorian and NSW governments followed a few days later with a similar set of criteria, and now the Federal Government is ramping up its consultations in preparation for the December Ministerial Council meeting.

The VFF has criticised the late response by the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and for the short notice it has given to stakeholders.

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said the criteria developed by the states ensured projects that recovered any of the 450Gl of ‘up-water’ would not have negative third party impacts on the irrigation system, water market or communities.

‘‘Just as the environmental equivalence test for environmental projects protects the environment, we believe these principles will protect agriculture, farmers and regional communities,’’ Mr Anderson said.

‘‘It is a testament to the NSW and Victorian governments’ commitment to the basin plan that they are willing to meaningfully consult communities.’’

Mr Anderson said this was in sharp contrast to the Federal department, which on Wednesday night last week informed the VFF it would be holding public consultations on additional basin plan socio-economic criteria for on-farm projects, with Victorian dates scheduled for this week.

‘‘Informing a key stakeholder with less than a week’s notice is far from meaningful consultation,’’ Mr Anderson said.

‘‘We believe any socio-economic criteria must apply to all water recovery projects, not just on-farm projects.

‘‘The evidence is previous on-farm projects, in which farmers had to return water to the Commonwealth to receive funding for on-farm upgrades, hurt regional communities.

‘‘The VFF calls on Minister Littleproud to support farming communities by adopting the Victorian and NSW governments’ rigorous socio-economic principles as a matter of urgency.’’

The Federal Government has not announced where the stakeholder consultations will be, nor how they will be carried out.