Inter-valley trade deliveries will be limited to 40 Gl a month or less during summer and autumn under new water trading rules to come into place next year.
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville announced the changes on August 13, with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority agreeing to adhere to the limit to stop further environmental damage to the Goulburn River.
The past two years have seen record high deliveries from the Goulburn IVT account to the Murray system due to drought conditions in NSW, coupled with strong trade demands in the Murray system during summer.
Prior to 2013-14, deliveries averaged about 60 Gl and jumped to 320 Gl in 2017-18 and 433 Gl in 2018-19.
During the 2018-19 period, 82.9 Gl was released in January, followed by 68.9 Gl in February and 50.8 Gl in March.
The limit has been labelled "wonderful news" by Greater Shepparton City councillor Dennis Patterson, who recently made an impassioned plea to prevent further environmental damage to the Goulburn River.
In a council-produced video released on August 13, Cr Patterson was seen travelling stretches of the Goulburn River in a boat and pointing out collapsed trees, destruction of vegetation and the erosion of river banks.
“It's been 12 months since I've been on a boat in this section of river, and it's gone back a long way since then,” he says in the video.
“Even the environmental flows that are put down the river to help the bank grow and support itself — it's all being killed off by high flows in summer.
“It's a waste of time, money and water.”
Cr Patterson said despite lower inter-valley flows, the river would take years to recover.
“You can't rebuild the banks, a river is a living thing. Hopefully after a few floods it will recover. But it will take time,” he said.
The implementation of new trade rules will be delayed until the start of the 2021-22 irrigation season.
The MDBA’s Annual Operating Outlook indicates the new limit can be achieved through management of the system and use of tributaries such as the Murrumbidgee.
Ms Neville said Victoria would do all it could to guarantee no shortfall for irrigators in the Lower Murray or elsewhere in the system.
“With increasing demands and less inflows to the system, doing nothing is not an option,” she said.
While the decision will provide some protection for the river environment, there is more work to be done according to State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed.
“Inter-valley transfers are having a very serious environmental impact on our rivers and it is important that the plan considers the environmental values everywhere — not just the lower lakes.”
Cr Patterson, who is chairman of the Murray Darling Association's Region 2 Committee, also highlighted the damage being done to aquatic life by the release of cooler water from Eildon during summer, which he said prevented shrimp breeding and affected the food chain.
The issue was due to be debated at a virtual MDA conference scheduled for September 14 in Shepparton.
In addition to the new flow regime, the Victorian Government is reviewing the rules that manage the trade of water from the Goulburn to the Murray and has released a summary of the initial community consultation.
The 2019 interim trade measures designed to protect deliverability and ensure a level playing field for irrigators would be extended, Ms Neville said, including the interim regulations for tagged accounts so that all trades are treated the same when limits are applied.
Further consultation on options to change inter-valley trade rules will begin later this year subject to public health requirements.
● The summary report of the initial community consultation is available at: engage.vic.gov.au/goulburn-murray-trade-rule-review