Irrigators’ ire

August 04, 2017

Murray Valley Private Diverters acting chairman John Lolicato said he was extremely disappointed and concerned with allegations raised on the ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday last week.

The program brought to light allegations of meter compliance issues on the Barwon-Darling system.

Mr Lolicato said while the NSW compliance investigator did confirm that issues of concern were isolated to sections of the Barwon-Darling, it did not stop a negative image being portrayed of all other irrigators who are doing the right thing.

‘‘These allegations need to be thoroughly investigated and if found to be accurate those that are found to be involved must be brought to account and feel the full force of the law,’’ Mr Lolicato said.

‘‘While I commend the journalists for their investigation into this issue it is disappointing that their presentation has led the general public to believe that all NSW irrigators are at fault.

‘‘This could not be further from the truth as the vast majority of NSW irrigators are very conscious of doing the right thing.’’

Mr Lolicato said the program highlighted the issues of the Darling River in Northern NSW, which is different to the highly regulated conditions under which the Murray River in NSW and Victoria is operated in the Southern Basin.

The complexity of these issues continues to lead to poor outcomes under the Basin Plan, he said.

‘‘Over the years private diverters on the NSW Murray system have been highly regulated and fully metered.

‘‘Now they have the latest technology in telemetry, so that every time a pump is turned on, the timing and volumes are reported back to Water NSW. This ensures strict compliance and an irrigator can’t pump water without a current water order, and extraction is limited to the allocation amount held in their account.’’

Mr Lolicato said those who do not fully understand the complexity of water management and sharing have automatically linked this issue to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘The fact of the matter is, that when the Northern Basin has little or no capacity to contribute to the guaranteed supply of South Australia, this then needs to be supplied largely by the Murray River from the Hume Dam in the Southern basin.

‘‘Therefore reported compliance issues in the Northern Basin have no correlation to water security of South Australia.

‘‘It really means that those in the Southern Basin are not allocated water until South Australia is allocated its minimum supply, which is the first amount to be allocated.

‘‘Anyone suggesting that NSW is not meeting its obligations to South Australia does not understand how water is shared.’’

Mr Lolicato said about 83 per cent of water recovered under the Basin Plan for environmental flows to date is actually coming from southern connected system, particularly NSW Murray and Northern Victoria.

The ABC’s Four Corners program highlighted conflicts and concerns with water management in the Barwon-Darling System, however it is only one component of a much broader problem around assumptions that occurred in the development of the Basin Plan.

‘‘The Basin Plan in its current form won’t fix the Darling River issues and it also won’t fix the Coorong or Murray Mouth,’’ Mr Lolicato said.

‘‘It’s a case of mathematics and geography. We have a basin plan focused on achieving an ‘end of system flow number’ primarily through use of the Murray River alone.

‘‘It simply can’t work and was never going to.’’

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