Landholders who may be affected by Murray Darling Basin Plan constraint management projects should think carefully before rejecting them, says National Irrigators Council chief executive Steve Whan.
Constraints projects aim to overcome physical barriers that may affect the delivery of water through the Murray Darling system. They include changes to physical features, such as bridges, or allowing water managers more flexibility in releasing and moving water.
Mr Whan said when constraint management meant flooding land, farmers needed to look closely at the positive and negative benefits.
“I would urge people to engage in a conversation as to how you can ease those constraints, and how it can be done,” Mr Whan said.
“What we don’t want to see is those upper parts of those rivers to run like channels, 100 per cent of the time, just to deliver amounts of water.
“I would be saying to people, just saying ‘no’, or not engaging in this is probably going to hurt all of us, in the long term, because it would mean we would have to give up water.”
Mr Whan was speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch, on the Productivity Commission’s report into the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
“If you are a landholder and someone says ‘this portion of your property is going to be inundated’, you are not going to make a decision tomorrow about it,” Mr Whan said.
“You want to talk about it and think about it, to work out the negatives and any benefits you are going to get as well.”
Irrigators along the NSW Murray and Victoria’s Goulburn Rivers have cast doubt on constraint management projects.
Murray Valley Private Diverters chair John Lolicato said all river systems had limited carrying capacity.
“We have spent five years with the Murray Darling Basin Authority to try and get them to understand whatever political imperative you might have, the simple fact is the water won’t fit,” Mr Lolicato said.
Productivity Commission Commissioner Professor Jane Doolan said compulsory acquisition of land for constraints management projects was an option, but unlikely.
“I would imagine compulsory acquisition would be a highly controversial political decision – I doubt there would be a precedent for it.”
When constraints were eased around Yarrawonga, on the Murray River, authorities negotiated with landholders. “Our assumption is that is how governments would approach the current suite of constraint lifting.”
Professor Doolan said it also required time for the projects to be carried out successfully.
“Landholders need to be involved, they need to understand what the impact on their property would be, what is their settlement and how that might happen.”
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the government would not flood private land, without the agreement of landholders.
“We have also been clear that constraints must be dealt with as a system-wide approach, as removing constraints in Victoria will have no benefit without NSW constraints being removed,” she said.
She said the constraints project was withdrawn, as it delivered minimal water savings at enormous cost to taxpayers, and would have resulted in over 550 landowners flooded.
“We continue to work to develop a staged bottom-up project that would achieve improvements inflows without impacting landowners.”