Water Ministers argue over river constraints

By Geoff Adams

Irrigator groups are unsatisfied with reports to emerge from the state and federal water ministers' meeting in Canberra on Sunday.

The ministers agreed to appoint an inspector-general to police basin water management, examine water deliverability, and just two states - Victoria and New South Wales - will do further modelling on constraint problems which are limiting the delivery of water down the rivers.

Northern Victorian Irrigators committee member Mark Bryant said the appointment of an inspector-general would not have much impact on Victoria, because irrigation was metered and tightly controlled, but it might send a ``wake-up call'' to the other states to get their house in order.

Mr Bryant was surprised South Australia did not agree to participate in further modelling on constraints as this would have been in its interest to discover why certain volumes of water could not delivered to the other end of the river.

``This was an excellent idea put up by Lisa Neville and I can't see why South Australia wouldn't support it, if they are genuinely interested in the health of the river.

``We already know that it's going to be hard to get certain volumes down the river.

``I guess it's the old story: everyone is keen on protecting the river, as long as they get what they want down their end.''

Southern Riverina Irrigators' chairman Chris Brooks said he was thankful the Victorian and NSW ministers were taking a stand, because he didn't see much courage from the other parties.

``They've made a genuine attempt to speak up for the people.''

He was critical of Federal Water Minister David Littleproud and said he should tackle the real issues faced by Murray irrigators.

``The inspector-general wont make much difference to us (in the Murray and Goulburn systems) as we are all metered to the last megalitre.''

He said the ministers needed to tackle the mismanagement of the Darling river system, the constraints limiting the river flows, the South Australian lower lakes and getting better value out of the water the basin plan already managed.

Issues around deliverability of water will be peer-reviewed by an independent expert panel after a Victorian Government proposal was agreed to.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the agreement was a significant win for water users across the basin who needed assurances that the work being undertaken by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority was underpinned by strong data and accurate assumptions.

Victoria proposed an independent panel to peer-review the Murray River Capacity Risks Project to learn from this season’s deliverability shortfalls and better understand risks to future water delivery. 

Members of the panel and the terms of reference will be agreed to by the Commonwealth and all basin states – with a report due back at the next Ministerial Council meeting.

To complement the review, Victoria and NSW also agreed to further investigate the modelling of constraints projects to restore community confidence in this aspect of the basin plan.

While Ms Neville and NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey raised these concerns with the Ministerial Council, agreement could not be reached, leaving Victoria and NSW to go it alone and jointly undertake this vital work.

The Ministerial Council had a united front on the critical importance of the agreed socio-economic criteria underpinning further water recovery – reiterating that there would be no further buy-backs unless it can be proven this would not negatively impact basin communities.

Prior to the meeting the VFF had called on all water minister to follow Victoria’s lead and introduce some controls on new developments requiring more irrigation water in the lower Murray.