Murray water losses questioned at public forums

Department of Industry and WaterNSW give a grim outlook for the next water year


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It was a full room for the Department of Industry and WaterNSW's consultation on drought management at Deniliquin on Tuesday. The forum was one of 15 being held around the state to inform and gain feedback from water users.

It was a full room for the Department of Industry and WaterNSW's consultation on drought management at Deniliquin on Tuesday. The forum was one of 15 being held around the state to inform and gain feedback from water users.

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Irrigators ask whether the MDBA requirements will be adapted during the drought.

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Water losses in the system and pushing extra water through the choke were at the top of the list of concerns during recent drought forums in the Murray region.

Landholders, who attended the Deniliquin stop of the NSW Department of Industry and WaterNSW's drought management consultations, also raised questions about how South Australia entitlement and the environment's flows were managed during drought.

Deniliquin irrigators are largely reliant on the Murray system, which along with the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan, has just entered stage two of four on the department's drought stages in the Extreme Events Policy.

But a zero per cent general security water allocation for the last year means Murray irrigators have already been feeling the effects of drought on their river system.

The meeting demystified the complexity of priority users during drought, gave an overview of where the whole state is at and the outlook for the next water year (grim for all without groundwater or high security).

Both presenters and attendees agreed there needed to be more transparency of information between decision makers and those who are affected by the decisions.

"I think the biggest thing we're hearing is that we need to be more open," Adrian Langdon from WaterNSW said.

Irrigator Nic Morona said he was concerned about the environment being the number two priority on the Water Act's drought management hierarchy.

"We want water for the environment but we've got to question whether it comes before high security and stock water," Mr Morona said.

He also questioned whether irrigators' allocations would be impacted by water losses caused by higher volumes of water being sent downstream due to increased demand.

"There are trade restrictions in place above the (Barmah) choke but any water just below the choke isn't restricted and where are those conveyance losses going to come from?" he questioned.

Irrigators questions whether MDBA requirements would be adapted during the drought.

Irrigators questions whether MDBA requirements would be adapted during the drought.

Will the MDBA adapt to drought?

Many questions raised at the Deniliquin consultation related to how NSW's water sharing policies during drought fitted in with Murray Darling Basin agreement requirements.

Irrigator and ex-Murray Irrigation chairman, Noel Graham said he didn't understand how South Australia's water requirements as part of the MDBA would work with drought management of the Murray.

"Clearly now Menindee is empty the water has to come out of the Murray to supply SA and I don't know whether their requirements will reflect how much water is upstream or whether its just going to drain the Murray," Mr Graham said.

Jacqui Hickey from the MDBA explained when state's were struggling to supply their critical human water needs or to run the river the Murray Darling Basin states must come together to discuss how to get through the dry time until they have more resources available.

She said that situation was labelled 'Tier 2' of a three tier water sharing system.

"When we go into Tier 3 that's the worst drought we've ever experienced, worse than the Millennium drought, worse than ever recorded, when we don't have enough water to do anything," Ms Hickey said.

Currently the Murray Darling Basin is still at Tier 1, normal water availability, but Ms Hickey predicted that if there were no significant inflows by the following water year, July 2020, we could enter Tier 2.

Michael Wrathall from the Department of Industry said they were hearing more and more that the agreement was stretched to its limits.

"We've certainly got a lot more environmental water in the system, we've had more extreme droughts in recent years so that certainly stretched our ability to manage as efficiently as possible within the constraints of the agreement," Mr Wrathall said.

"It's very difficult because you need to get all the states to agree on any proposed changes but there's certainly some areas we've identified where the agreement needs to be re-looked at."

Mr Wrathall said feedback from the 15 consultations around the state would be collated for the Critical Advisory Panel, who recommend how the river systems were managed for the next 12 months.

The community consultations continued in Griffith on Wednesday and Gunnedah and Walgett later in the week.

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