NSW Farmers says water recovery in the Northern Basin must stop, and has urged the nation’s water ministers to think of the rural jobs when they finalise Murray Darling Basin offset projects on Friday.
Association president Derek Schoen urged ministers attending the Murray Darling Basin Briefing Ministerial Council – who will meet in Mildura – to consider the hardship already seen in regional NSW as a result of Northern Basin recovery.
Mr Schoen said the meeting was an opportunity for ministers, including NSW regional water minister Niall Blair, to negotiate a sensible outcome, and discuss non-flow eco-strategies.
Southern Basin targets must consider the mounting evidence about the social and economic impacts of taking water out of production
“Water recovery in NSW must stop,” Mr Schoen said. “The 278 gigalitres of water already recovered from agricultural production in the Northern Basin has caused widespread devastation of regional communities.”
“Southern Basin targets must consider the mounting evidence about the social and economic impacts of taking water out of production.”
Mr Schoen said adding water to rivers would not necessarily improve their health.
“Government needs to focus on complimentary, non-flow measures that respond to the needs of the Basin's ecosystems, such as carp control and addressing cold water pollution.”
The Association’s missive came after Minister Blair’s message to other Basin states that better understanding of the Basin Plan’s upwater program was needed – and its potential to cause economic decline in regional NSW.
Mr Blair released an independent report on Tuesday he said showed the ‘neutral or beneficial’ provisions in existing inter-state agreements were not practical or reasonable when compared with accepted definitions of socio-economic impact.
The Basin Plan provides an additional 450GL of upwater to be recovered, on top of the 2,750GL target, through on-farm and other water efficiency projects that are said to be socially and economically neutral or beneficial.
Mr Blair said NSW business owners and community leaders had expressed concern around the upwater program, primarily because current agreements do not consider social and economic impacts beyond the farm-gate.
“In NSW we are committed to implementing the Basin Plan in a way that puts communities first – and to achieve this all states must be open to having an honest conversation about the upwater program,” Mr Blair said.
Victorian Nats calls for new lock on Murray
Meanwhile, Victoria’s opposition water spokesman Peter Walsh said building a Lock Zero at Wellington, before water from the Murray River flows into South Australia’s Lower Lakes, should be on the agenda for tomorrow’s council meeting.
Mr Walsh said five barrages were installed, through the Lower Lakes system, downstream from Lake Alexandrina.
But up to 950GL was lost each year, from the Lower Lakes, through evaporation.
“There needs to be a serious examination of the case for removing the barrages and installing Lock Zero, and Friday’s meeting is the ideal time to start the discussion,” Mr Walsh said.
Mr Walsh said a new lock would mean securing water, going down to South Australia, and would mean no more would need to be taken from agriculture to meet the Basin Plan.
Record flood events in the southern Basin in late 2016 saw more than 4000GL flow into the Lower Lakes in two months, yet dredging of the Murray Mouth resumed in January.
Irrigators say ministers should heed Northern Basin review
The National Irrigators Council chief executive Steve Whan said ministers should see socio economic data from the Northern basin review as a gamechanger.
“Ministers need to focus on outcomes for river health and the community rather than just ticking off numbers of gigalitres (GL).
“I’m hopeful that despite the sometimes-fractious debate they will do that.
Mr Whan said scientific modelling showed that recovering 278GL in the Northern basin had cost 450 people their jobs.
“Future action needs to be firmly framed around that background - around achieving outcomes without negative community impact.”
He said irrigators wanted to see a genuine triple bottom line outcome out of this process.
MDBA estimated water recovery as at December 31 2016 as being 2,027.6GL, or 73.7 per cent toward the 2,750GL surface water recovery target.
ABS figures also showed significant reductions in the total area being irrigated and the amount of water being used per hectare.