Big bin of money for floodplain harvesting

Floodplain harvesting: an inequitable situation

Opinion
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Floodplain harvesting is a big mess in NSW, writes Mal Peters.

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IT IS grossly inequitable for the NSW government to gift $4 billion of floodplain harvesting (FPH) licences to a small percentage of the 3 per cent of Australian farmers who irrigate.

The government's floodplain harvesting (FPH) policy has been an unholy mess since the mid 1990s with Northern irrigators sitting on millions of dollars of dam infrastructure that may be worthless, southern irrigators harshly affected with less water for irrigation and a crook river with massive fish kills. It is hard to see how there could be a greater stuff up.

Northern NSW irrigators rely on three sources of water - river licences, groundwater and some from the unlicensed water that flows across floodplains.

The NSW government's new Natural Resources Access Regulator recently put the cat amongst the pigeons when it said any water taken by FPH would be unlawful as there are no FPH licences in NSW.

The NSW government has been trying to issue floodplain harvesting licences for years and expects to create new licences by June next year but with only a small amount of water identified in the Basin Plan for such it is unclear where these new licences will come from.

The volume of floodplain harvesting licences is supposed to be limited to the 1993/94 levels of development.

This is a legal requirement of the NSW Water Management Act. So, the government is going to issue new licences for volumes that have never been measured, and we're supposed to believe, without any evidence, they have been limited to volumes taken in 1993/94.

There is already talk of a Basin Plan II as the current target might not deliver a healthy river, so there is a very good chance these new licences may have to be bought back, so will be a windfall for those fortunate enough to get them as they will be compensable.

The $4 billion is calculated by the price the Commonwealth paid for floodplain harvesting licences, or in Queensland, by paying $2745 per megalitre in the infamous $80 million #Watergate purchase from Eastern Australia Agriculture.

The NSW government is basing the new licence volumes on the capacity of on-farm dams, which it has said is roughly 1500 gigalitres in the northern valleys.

At $2745 per megalitre, that is more than a $4-billion asset that will effectively be gifted to a few northern irrigators.

To rub salt into the wound the base amount of water communities fought over - the sustainable diversion limit (SDL) - is going to be increased by the new volume given to floodplain harvesting.

This is another example how the Basin Plan is busted and needs a Royal Commission - a grand inequity of $4 billion for a small number of irrigators, Northern irrigators with stranded assets, Southern irrigators' licences greatly affected because the water that must flow to South Australia under the Basin Plan from the Darling River must now come from the Murrumbidgee and Murray, reducing Southern irrigators' access.

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