Farmers could lose more water if SDL projects aren’t completed on time

By Rodney Woods

More water could be taken from the region if the sustainable diversion limit projects are not operational by 2024.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority released its mid-year basin report card on June 16, which said six of the 36 SDL projects brought to the table by basin states, in May 2018, are at significant risk of not being operational by the June 2024 deadline.

“Basin state governments are responsible for the design and implementation of these projects, and the Australian Government will fund them,” the report card said.

“In 2024, the MDBA can choose to make a final determination about the level of adjustment to the limits, based on the implementation of both supply and efficiency projects.

“If projects are not fully implemented, additional water recovery needs to occur.”

Northern Victorian Irrigation Communities chair Dudley Bryant described the chance of more water being recovered as "rubbish".

“My first impression was they are marking their own homework,” Mr Bryant said.

“It's all spin and propaganda as it has been all the way through.

“I did notice that (the possibility of more water being recovered) and what a load of rubbish . . . I think it’s pie in the sky stuff and it shows a lack of a basic understanding of how the basin plan works.”

Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar said the plan's objectives needed to be reassessed.

“Obviously delivering huge volumes of water through the southern connected system comes with severe third party impacts to the environment, food production and communities,” she said.

“Wouldn't it make sense to stop and reassess?

“Legislation has been changed in the past.

“The best thing that the MDBA could do, in their independent capacity, is to re-evaluate how to go about achieving some of the Basin Plan objectives.

“The just add water approach is not working.”

The report card also said environmental water holders had used what water they had strategically, off the back of recent rains, to improve the river health.

“We encourage e-water holders to share more widely the outcomes of these watering events to build confidence in the community,” MDBA chief executive Phil Glyde said.

But Mrs Scoullar said there was mixed messaging about the health of rivers across the basin.

“On the weekend there was a tweet from the account of a former senior water manager stating ‘I am driving in the basin and am quite despondent about the state of the rivers and wetlands’," she said.

“We keep being reassured that the basin plan is adaptive, however, in the health check Mr Glyde warned greater effort is needed to ensure agreed on-ground projects to modernise the way the river is managed were delivered as planned.

“That does not give me confidence that the basin plan is adaptive and flexible.”

Victorian Shadow Water Minister Steph Ryan said northern Victorian farmers could not afford anymore water to be recovered.

“The Victorian Liberal Nationals fiercely reject the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s suggestion that more water will need to be taken from farmers to make up for shortcomings in water savings of on-ground projects,” she said.

“Victorian irrigators have done the heavy lifting to return water to the environment.

“It has pushed our basin communities to breaking point.

“There is no excuse for failing to act to ensure our farmers and basin communities don't face further devastation due to the loss of more water.”