A group of southern Riverina irrigators is seeking $750million for losses in production as a result of ‘‘reckless’’ management of the Murray-Darling Basin.
The nine irrigators have lodged a class action in the NSW Supreme Court, saying decisions made by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority led to them receiving zero general security water allocation and the region losing millions.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chair and Barooga farmer Chris Brooks, who is spearheading the class action, said communities had been ‘‘crucified’’ as a result of the lack of water.
‘‘There is just a continuing desertion of population, businesses have folded, dairy farms are closing, rice mills are closing down,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s devastating and mental health is a real issue.
‘‘It’s depressing to see it happen in a town you’ve grown up in.’’
The group claims that it should have been reasonably foreseeable that a decision to drain the Menindee Lakes in 2016 would lead to southern storages falling in the resulting two years, making it increasingly difficult to fulfill obligations to South Australia while also delivering allocations.
‘‘(The MDBA) owed a duty of care to those reliant on water entitlements from the Murray-Darling Basin to not be reckless or negligent in its discharge of its functions,’’ the statement of claim reads.
The class action has also taken aim at the authority for conveyance losses sustained this season, saying if the Murray River was run at capacity earlier in the year, the losses would not have been sustained and they still could have received an allocation.
An MDBA report released in March revealed that hundreds of gigalitres of water had been lost in the Murray River system in the prior eight months, with as much as 1000Gl in conveyance losses expected to be recorded by the end of May.
The class action claims that the total amount of spillage in the system as a result of exceeding constraints at the Barmah Choke and at Tocumwal exceeded 861000Ml.
‘‘The total amount of water access licences held by members in the (Murray Irrigation) region is approximately 831000Ml,’’ according to the statement of claim.
‘‘(The MDBA) was grossly negligent or ... reckless in sending water above capacity down the Murray from the southern storages and in doing so causing the spillage,’’ the statement of claim reads.
‘‘(The MDBA) could have, but took no steps to prevent such risk from being realised.’’
A spokesperson for the MDBA declined to comment.
One of those who have joined the class action is Flanagan Marketing Services director Lawrie Flanagan who runs Woodlawn Pastoral Company — a dairy farm just outside Finley — with his sons.
Mr Flanagan said the time to fight was now.
‘‘We’re going to end up having to walk off because we have no water,’’ he said.
‘‘It cannot be overstated how much this area has been decimated.
‘‘Whatever happens, at least we’ll make them nervous.
‘‘We cannot take it lying down.’’
The MDBA has until June 11 to respond to the claims, with an initial hearing scheduled for July 3.