Still at risk

June 24, 2017

State ministers say they have taken ‘key steps’ to delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but Murray Valley food producers are still at risk.

Much more work and consultation is required to identify what the impacts of decisions around this key step will be to the Murray Valley.

The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council on Friday endorsed the final package of Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) Adjustment Mechanism projects, saying it would enable environmental outcomes to be delivered in a way that eliminates the need for further water recovery in the southern Basin to achieve objectives of the Basin Plan.

Details of the decisions are still to be disclosed and discussed with stakeholders so there is a long way to go in the Basin Plan implementation process if it is to help offset some of the impacts in the Murray Valley.

‘‘The agreement from the ministers that the required 650 gigalitres of ‘down water’ should be recovered through environmental efficiency or SDL projects is critical,’’ Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Graeme Pyle said.

‘‘It is encouraging to hear the ministers discussing the need for adaptive management to be incorporated into the Basin Plan. Complementary measures that deliver or contribute to environmental outcomes must also be included in the offset process, as environmental outcomes cannot be achieved without them.

‘‘It is critical that no more productive water is removed from communities if we are going to avoid further impacts to agricultural production, and it is heartening to hear ministers state categorically there will be no more water buybacks.’’

Mr Pyle said the devil is in the detail, and there are still major risks for the Murray Valley if these concepts are poorly developed or give no regard to adverse impacts in our region.

‘‘It is critically important not to take more water out of production but if decisions around projects cause reliability or access impacts, result in higher fees and charges to food producers or place other risks to our communities in the Murray Valley, this is unacceptable,’’ he said.

Mr Pyle added the damage being caused to communities by the Basin Plan was highlighted last week with the release of stage one of a socio-economic report into the Basin Plan’s impact on the NSW Murray region.

It showed production losses from the plan were estimated at $120 million a year at the farm gate.

With the addition of the multiplier effect, Mr Said said this represented a loss of more than $360 million to the region’s economy and came on top of a similar report which suggested losses in the Goulburn Valley were about $500 million a year.

‘‘Given the serious economic impacts we are seeing in regions such as the Murray and Goulburn Valleys, it is essential that no more water is removed from production.

‘‘At this point we have not seen the fine print of the projects being considered, however there are concerns that some of them may have third party impacts.

‘‘We also know that proposed projects are just concept plans and there is potential for projects to run over budget, leading to cost over-runs that may be passed on to irrigation fees.

‘‘It is essential the Murray Darling basin Authority and government departments charged with implementing the SDL projects work directly with community representatives and impacted stakeholders this, includes the organisations which comprise Murray Group, as we want to ensure the projects do not pose any third party risks.’’

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