Water battle between dairy farmers and almond growers intensifies

By Country News

Northern Victorian dairy farmers are increasingly competing for water directly with almond plantations downstream, with water use by Lower Murray Water diverters more than doubling to 429Gl in the past 15 years.

With zero allocation for NSW Murray irrigators, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning notes in its Updated Trends in Northern Victorian Water Trade 2001-2018 report, that competition is growing fiercer.

‘‘In those years when NSW allocations are very low, irrigators in the G-MW districts whose business model includes reliance on allocation trade will be competing with LMW diverters,’’ the report said.

‘‘At some point, if there is a continual increase in the volume of allocations necessary to supply perennial horticultural crops across the southern connected Murray-Darling Basin, it is possible that there won’t be sufficient allocation in severe drought to meet all their needs.

‘‘There is now less of a buffer in the Victorian system before dairy farmers and horticulturalists start to directly compete for water.’’

The scarcity of water has seen the median monthly market price of permanent water rise by 90 per cent from $1500/Ml in 2014-15 to $2850/Ml in 2017-18.

Only 66Gl was traded in 2017-18, the lowest volume in the past 10 years.

But appetite for water is only growing — G-MW districts used 151 per cent of the volume tied to the district according to the report, and LMW districts used 204 per cent of the volume tied to their land.

The report also reveals a number of interesting trends related to high reliability water share ownership.

The volume of high reliability water shares linked to land in the region has reduced by 134Gl, or seven per cent, since 2015 to 1363Gl.

In the same period the volume of water privately held but not linked to land increased by five per cent to 298Gl and the volume of water held for the environment increased by 56Gl to 661Gl.

‘‘By June 30, 2018, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder held 620Gl of Victorian high-reliability water shares; 497Gl of this had been purchased from other entitlement holders, with a further 7.4Gl issued from Sunraysia modernisation and 115Gl from the Goulburn-Murray Water Connections project,’’ the report said.