Anger over northern irrigators harvesting floodplain water

By Country News

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has demanded answers to why NSW and Queensland irrigators have been allowed to harvest floodplain water out of northern Murray-Darling Basin rivers.

“I have written to Federal Minister Keith Pitt to make my expectations clear and seek an explanation,” Ms Neville said.

She expressed concerns the extracted water left irrigators in the southern basin and the Menindee Lakes with zero allocations, resulting in serious environmental impacts.

“We need consistent application of rules across the basin to get fair outcomes — this includes irrigators, communities and the environment.”

Ms Neville said irrigators in sections and tributaries of the Namoi, Peel, Gwydir and Barwon rivers were allowed to divert water for three days following high levels of rain.

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said he was worried by the inaction from Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources interim inspector-general Mick Keelty.

“This recent rain is a first flush for the system and should have been protected to ensure it reached the southern basin and Menindee Lakes,” Mr Anderson said.

A spokesperson for NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said after 250 mm of rain fell in some parts of the northern basin, restrictions on floodplain harvesting were put into effect from February 7 to 28.

“A number of landholders and community members contacted the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to request an immediate lift of the order on a small area of the system for a short period of time, when they received calls from property owners claiming their properties were under threat from flash flooding,” she said.

The department temporarily lifted the embargo from February 10 to 13, which applied to about 200 properties, and now remains in place.

“Thanks to these embargos, WaterNSW modelling suggests more than 25 to 45 000 Ml could make its way into the top of the Menindee Lakes system at Lake Wetherell by the end of March,” the spokesperson said.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said it was time the Victorian Government stood up for its irrigators.

“(The) Victorian Government has been the good guy for too long and it is time the Victorian Government takes on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, takes legal proceedings and demands that something be done to protect our rivers here — particularly while we see northern NSW right now floodplain harvesting,” Ms Sheed said.