‘Enough is enough’

By Alana Christensen

Victorian irrigators continue to bear the brunt of environmental obligations under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, delivering almost three-quarters of the environmental water in a dry year.

The VFF analysis of state environmental water holder figures comes as water leaders around the region plead for no more water to be recovered ahead of Friday’s Ministerial Council meeting in Melbourne.

The analysis also found if water buy-backs occurred today, Victorian farmers would be more than $1billion better off.

Basin ministers are set to discuss a neutrality test for the recovery of the controversial 450Gl of ‘up-water’, yet VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said Victoria had already delivered its fair share.

Mr Anderson said the recent analysis, modelled on October 2016 figures, confirmed a ‘‘long-held belief’’ that the Commonwealth had ‘‘specifically targeted’’ Victorian water because of its ability to deliver more water in dry years.

The analysis found that if all systems in the basin states were on 100 per cent allocation, NSW would deliver just over half of the environmental water needed, while Victoria would deliver 38 per cent.

However, it’s a different story in dry years, with Victoria overwhelmingly shouldering the load.

The state currently contributes more than 575000Ml, or 73 per cent, of the environmental allocation, whereas NSW delivers 68000Ml or eight per cent and South Australia contributes the remaining 145000Ml in a dry year.

‘‘No wonder Victorian irrigators are saying the basin plan is causing severe socio-economic costs,’’ Mr Anderson said.

‘‘Enough is enough. It is time the MDBA (Murray-Darling Basin Authority) and the Commonwealth fixed the current plan before they attempt to recover a single drop of additional water.’’

Heading into MinCo, Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair and State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said it was key an independent report compiled by Sefton and Associates about the community consultations on the draft program criteria be released.

‘‘Communities are very anxious to see that report and be sure that their concerns have been properly represented,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘We all need to have confidence in the transparency of the process.

‘‘Communities need to be protected from any impacts (of the recovery of the 450).’’

Speak Up Campaign spokesperson Shelley Scoullar said a more constructive approach was needed.

‘‘It is surely time for everyone to look at solutions that will protect our natural assets,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.

‘‘It’s disappointing that we can’t seem to get environmental groups, local organisations and politicians together so they can attempt to get a better appreciation of impact from some past decisions that were actually made for political reasons, not environmental reasons.’’

Call for research into river flows

The natural constraints of the Murray-Darling Basin need to be acknowledge to ensure environmental flows do not cause adverse effects, water groups say.

Concern about the lack of research into the natural constraints of rivers continues to grow among water groups, with VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson demanding more work be done on the issue.

‘‘It’s no good if that grand plan destroys the environment,’’ Mr Anderson said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Speak Up Campaign spokesperson Shelley Scoullar, who said the environment continued to be the casualty of political point-scoring.

‘‘At present locals are extremely concerned about the environmental damage from trying to force huge quantities of water down the river,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.

‘‘There is unprecedented flooding of local forests, river bank slumping and a proliferation of carp breeding.

‘‘We have to accept that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is causing unintended environmental damage.’’

Basin ministers are set to meet this Friday in Melbourne to discuss the plan and develop a neutrality test for the recovery of 450Gl of ‘up-water’.

‘‘Enough is enough. It is time the MDBA and the Commonwealth fixed the current plan before they attempt to recover a single drop of additional water,’’ Mr Anderson said.

The conversation comes as the Committee of Environment and Energy released its report into the management and use of Commonwealth environmental water on Friday.

The committee drew criticism for visiting Shepparton but not holding a public meeting.

The 118-page report made a total of nine recommendations including that basin states should continue to work to ensure that environmental water flows achieve their aims, and work with Murray-Darling Basin Authority on methods to shepherd environmental water in a manner consistent with the rights of other water holders.

In a submission to the inquiry, then-Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland said basin communities had suffered real pain and people wanted to be assured of the outcomes being achieved with environmental water.

Greater Shepparton City Council advised that further loss of water from the region would result in irreparable devastation.

Yet Victorian Environmental Water Holder chair Denis Flett told the inquiry that while the environment came first, shared benefits including water quality and recreation were given due consideration.