Long-term solutions are needed to stop degradation of Barmah Choke, Neville says

By Alana Christensen

Long-term solutions are needed to stop the degradation of the Barmah Choke, according to the Victorian Water Minister.

Lisa Neville last week announced all licence applications in the lower Murray region would be personally reviewed by her for the next 12 months in an attempt to have greater control over the large volumes of water being sent through the choke.

The Barmah Choke has a natural constraint of about 8500Ml/day yet was consistently run at levels of up to 10000Ml/day this year, leading to water losses as a result of flooding over the banks.

Under the plan, no new licences for extraction will be issued or limit increases granted unless it can be shown there will be no increased risks to the environment or entitlement holders.

Although the move has been welcomed by the VFF and State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed, Ms Neville acknowledged the new policy was a short-term fix.

‘‘The Murray-Darling Basin Authority have acknowledged they need to do this work (to determine a more long term solution),’’ she said.

‘‘The reality is there’s a natural constraint that limits what we are able to deliver.

‘‘The irony is the more water you try and deliver the less you ultimately can as a result of silt build-up. We’ve already seen the choke’s capacity diminish in the last decade or so.’’

Almond and citrus industries in the lower Murray have also called for a moratorium on further development, due to concerns that water delivery at such high flows is unsustainable.

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said the changes would help protect Goulburn Murray Irrigation District farmers who have large amounts of water traded downstream.

‘‘It is critical that NSW and South Australia take action now so we can collectively put a pause on the rapid expansion of water licences, review water trading rules, and then decide how to move forward in a way that protects everyone,’’ Mr Anderson said.

A push to create a more transparent water market is also on Ms Neville’s agenda, with a number of proposals set to be released for consultation in the coming weeks.

While Ms Neville said her preference was a ‘‘completely transparent’’ market, she said she would allow the irrigation community to decide. ‘‘We want all of us to own it,’’ she said.

The final decision will also take in findings from a Federal Government-led review into water trading in the southern basin.

And, while calls for a review of carryover have grown stronger in northern Victoria, Ms Neville backed away from a wide ranging review of carryover.

‘‘There are no plans to get rid of or make significant changes. I’m happy to look at the edges.’’

This approach will be reviewed in 12 months, when MDBA modelling is complete and all states can put clear plans in place to manage how water is delivered through the Murray system without ‘‘unacceptable’’ impacts to the environment and entitlements, Ms Neville said.