CRUNCH time is coming to a range of crucial issues for irrigators in the top half of the Murray Darling Basin, with licence buybacks and the states’ share of overall water take topping the agenda.
A comprehensive plan for water recovery is under development and this week Murray Darling Basin Authority chief executive, Phillip Glyde, headed north to kick off the latest round of consultation with stakeholders.
The Authority’s plan will be submitted to Water Minister Barnaby Joyce who would table it in parliament.
The Basin Plan, which has already moved past the buyback stage down south, floated an initial recommendation that 390 gigalitres of water in the Northern Basin should be returned consumptive use to the environment.
But the figure is yet to be finalised and Mr Glyde said that consultation was crucial – especially because understanding of hydrology, water use and environment needs were less comprehensive than in the south.
Mr Glyde didn’t rule out the need for buybacks, stressed the importance of better use of available water to recover flows for the environment.
“The government’s made it clear they want to do it (buy backs) through infrastructure and on farm efficiency,” he said.
To date, “a lot more” water has been recovered from NSW than Queensland, leaving a significant question mark over how water users in the Basin headwaters would meet recovery obligations.
But “there is still water to be recovered in NSW as well though,” Mr Glyde said.
The current Basin Plan meant a significant change for communities in the north, who on average would contribute a 10 per cent return of their water to the river system, depending on the valley.
Mr Glyde said local input has been crucial for the review- which is why he’d been travelling around regions, such as Moree, Goondiwindi and Texas to hear local perspectives on water management.
So far, Mr Glyde said a key issue for communities was government’s use on of water returned for environmental flows, with concerns of inefficiency and unnecessary recovery.
“Every valley believes they’ve given back enough water, “ he said.
“And they don’t like buy backs.”
Mr Glyde said communities in the north agree river health needs to be improved and their initial feedback has focused on practical measure.
Groups raised the idea of a ‘toolkit’ to incorporate a range of non-flow initiatives including fish ladders and fencing to prevent livestock from eroding river banks instead of focusing intially on water recovery.