What do irrigators think of the draft Water Resource Plans?

The Water Resource Plans are almost complete, but irrigators aren't happy

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The overdue NSW Water Resource Plans for eight surface areas are currently undergoing final consultation but few irrigator groups are happy with them. Map sourced from the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

The overdue NSW Water Resource Plans for eight surface areas are currently undergoing final consultation but few irrigator groups are happy with them. Map sourced from the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

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The Land speaks to each water district to see what they have to say.

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New Water Resource Plans (WRPs) for eight water surface areas in NSW are currently going through the final round of consultation before being handed to the Commonwealth for accreditation.

The WRPs determine how water is used at a local level to keep the state on track to meet the sustainable diversion limits agreed to in the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

NSW has already missed two of the deadlines set for the new WRPs by the federal water minister.

This week The Land spoke to irrigation group spokespeople from each area to hear what was the crucial issue for their region.

We found most, but not all, were unhappy with their WRP final drafts, concerns including new first-flush rules and supplementary water regulations. This was what they had to say.

Border Rivers

Border Rivers Food and Fibre executive officer, Tim Napier, said they had hoped provisions to deal with embargoes would be included in their Water Resource Plan but it had not happened due to time constraints.

"Because there's a lack of clarity around the embargoes it leaves us (irrigators) totally exposed.

"When to invoke Section 324 measures (temporary restrictions) is open to interpretation so everyone is always unsure of if and when embargoes are going to be called.

"At the end of the day someone has to make a judgement call, usually the Minister, on when to jump and the rules can be interpreted to meet political goals rather than ecological ones."

Barwon Darling 

Barwon Darling Water spokesman, Ian Cole said irrigators were concerned with several changes to their Water Resource Plan, including a new first-flush rule and increasing A Class pumping thresholds.

Mr Cole said currently a first-flow was protected by a river height threshold but the new rule was more complex.

"Now they want to say there must be a target at a particular point met, they've nominated a number of targets downstream, before anyone can turn on the pump.

"That means people who would have been able to pump earlier will have to wait longer, which means they'll miss an opportunity."

Gwydir

Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association executive officer Zara Lowien said their largest concern was the new supplementary water rules.

"Currently with supplementary water, the first 500ML goes to the wetlands, high security or stock and domestic, any more is split 50-50 between the environment and irrigators.

"But the new plan ignores current operations for high priority needs, other than the wetlands, and then water must be restricted to make a series of flow targets downstream, regardless of connectivity, before any additional flow can be shared between irrigators and the environment.

"These are significant changes that our stakeholder group should have been consulted on during the during the last seven-years of the plan's development and review."

Namoi

Namoi Water, on the other hand, were happy with their new supplementary water rules.

Namoi Water executive officer Jon Maree Baker said their Water Resource Plan enabled fairer sharing of supplementary water between irrigators and the environment.

"The current rules, made two decades ago as part of the original water sharing plan, resulted in significantly less water available for farmers to use, than the agreed 1994 CAP on extractions proposed."

She explained that from July to October, the original plan provided that farmers could only access 10pc of supplementary water but now they were moving to a 50-50 split all year round, with increased protection for the environment through raised trigger heights.

"It sounds like it's a big difference but the trigger height for supplementary access has changed, for example, from 2000ML of flow a day to 6000ML in July and August."

Macquarie

Macquarie River Food and Fibre executive officer, Grant Tranter said their Water Resource Plan had not undergone many changes.

"I think most irrigators realised it wasn't a genuine opportunity for things to change.

"The changes that have been made are pretty much designed to give environmental water holders more flexibility and make their water more effective.

"Irrigators support that, we want to see the environment get the most bang for their buck."

Lachlan

Lachlan Valley Water executive officer Mary Ewing said their main issue was persistent under-usage of irrigation water.

Ms Ewing said the impact of highly variable inflows on water availability had resulted in usage consistently 7-8pc below the allowable limit.

"We submitted that the Department should base the decision on allocation using the 98th percentile inflows instead of the 99th percentile inflows.

"Irrigators would take a bit more risk but we thought it could give people access to a little bit more water earlier in the year." The submission was not accepted.

Murrumbidgee

Murrumbidgee Private Irrigators CEO Iva Quarisa said they also had persistent under-usage of surface irrigation water.

She noted a bigger issue was their groundwater plan, which they hoped would be approved by June 30.

"In our current groundwater plan there is a three year rolling average to determine compliance with extraction limits.

"The new plan has a five year rolling average, this would mean the low extraction levels of 2016, a wet year, would be taken into account, therefore any breach would be minimised and the next allocation determination would not be as impacted."

Murray and Lower Darling

Southern Riverina Irrigators' Darcy Hare said they wanted to include a clause in their Water Resource Plan that if there was no water coming down the Darling River, they would only have to deliver what they historically used to.

"One of our main downfalls is no water comes down the Darling anymore.

"The Department said you can't have clauses within WRPs that impact other areas, however, the NSW government has approved developments that have impacted our WRPs."

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