ON FRIDAY the government released the news every irrigator feeding off Murray Irrigation had dreaded – a zero water allocation to start February.
In August they had been told in a worst-case scenario (for a 90 per cent probability) irrigators would receive a 14pc allocation on that day.
It was enough for Murray Irrigation to quickly take matters into its own hands, announcing it would release 53 gigalitres, representing a 5pc allocation.
The organisation’s chairman Phil Snowden said the company felt obliged to “make the water available to mitigate the dire circumstances being faced by its predominantly family-farm customer base.
“The release, which has a current market value of about $28 million, has been made on the back of a Department of Industry-Water announcement that the allocation of water to farmers holding general security water licences would remain at zero for the year,” said Mr Snowden.
“Friday’s announcement has crushed the hopes of many Murray Irrigation customers who had relied on earlier forecasts by the department of an allocation of up to 14 per cent this month.
One farmer who had been holding out hopes for an allocation was Blighty dairy farmer Lachlan Marshall.
Mr Marshall makes no bones about the fact he is now farming at a loss to keep his business afloat.
He is spending $400,000 a month buying water on the open market to grow fodder to feed his 900-strong herd.
Of news of the 53GL release he said of Murray Irrigation: “You’ve got to tip your hat to them. It’s only that they’ve managed to run the system so efficiently that they can do this at this time.”
“Meanwhile our elected officials seem happy to see us suffer,” he said. Mr Marshall fears the problem is rooted in the fact the river has been running over capacity since about September last year and still is.
It is being run hard to effect downstream water delivery and that he says, amounts to “asking a natural system to do something unnatural”.
He fears overflow into the Barmah Forest has caused huge losses and that’s where the projected 14GL allocation has disappeared to. “There must be an explanation about where the water has gone.” Mr Snowden also fears there have been “extraordinary and excessive” losses, depriving customers of as much as 200GL to 400GL of water.
Mr Snowden said Murray Irrigation had asked Regional Water Minister Niall Blair for a review of losses, where they were attributed and how it might be improved.
“As late as last week, we were advised by the MDBA that it was contributing to that ministerial response,” he said.
If confirmed, the loss of 200GL would add further to calls for scrutiny of the water management decisions made by MDBA and the Department of Industry-Water.
“Despite being Australia’s largest farmer-owned water delivery company, Murray Irrigation’s largest single customer operation is the delivery of environmental water,” said Mr Snowden.
“Our criticism is not of the Basin Plan, but the decisions being made to run the system that delivers it,” Mr Snowden said.
“As a company we’re trying to work with the authorities. We are proacively trying to be as responsible as we can to all Australians – we just want the people running the river to do the same.”