Pleading for water

By Alana Christensen

Calls for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to release more water to irrigators have been renewed, with locals saying it’s desperately needed to save the region’s dairy industry.

Dairy processors, Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville and a number of federal politicians have joined the chorus of people pleading for up to 50Gl of water to be released on to the market to assist with the crucial autumn period.

Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum said the request would help desperate dairy farmers hang on, with hopes measures can be put in place for farmers to pay ‘‘whatever they can afford’’.

‘‘The dairy industry is seriously on its knees at the moment and they are very, very desperate and the price of water now trading at around $500 on the temporary market has forced many dairy farmers to sell their herds,’’ he said.

‘‘This water can save thousands of businesses if it is released onto the market. We’ll then have the opportunity to see if we can direct where that water goes to make sure that it doesn’t go to commodities that aren’t going to help the dairy industry.

‘‘It gives many of our farmers the opportunity to get started and gives them hope.

‘‘It’s a short-term solution, however it’s better than sitting here doing nothing.’’

The measure has seen support from dairy processors across the region including KyValley’s director of innovation and business development Wayne Mulcahy.

‘‘The 50Gl, paired with the additional 14Gl announced by Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville, would not only lower the cost of water and provide much-needed relief for farmers, it will also provide a morale boost across the region, particularly in light of the poor weather forecast for next season,’’ he said.

Yet despite strong support from the community and Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, Mr Drum said the CEWH could not be forced to act.

A spokesperson for the Federal Department of Environment and Energy said the CEWH had received Mr Drum’s request and attributed high river flows in the lower Goulburn and mid-Murray to moving water for consumptive use and inter-valley transfers which ‘‘don’t mean that environmental needs are being met’’.

‘‘Any trade by the CEWH would occur through an open and competitive market process. There is no mechanism for the CEWH to provide water outside the market framework that has been used previously by the CEWH to trade water,’’ the spokesperson said.

The CEWH released 20Gl of water on to the market between September and January this year, using a competitive tender process.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed urged CEWH to release extra water, saying the impact to the state’s economy would be ‘‘devastating’’ if the region collapsed.

‘‘The GMID has already lost almost a third of its dairy farmers in the past two decades due to drought, high water prices and industry challenges, and forecasts suggest we’ll lose even more by the end of the year if farmers aren’t given the help they need,’’ Ms Sheed said.