Do Southern Riverina Irrigators fully understand the local implications of the Federal Water Minister agreeing to deliver the additional 450 gigalitres under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?
Remember, this is 450GL that the previous Water Minister vehemently opposed, as has our Federal Member Sussan Ley.
SRI chairwoman Gabrielle Coupland expressed excitement after the Murray-Darling Basin agreement between Nationals’ Water Minister David Littleproud and Labor’s Tony Burke was announced.
In an ABC interview, the SRI Chair went on to say “the deal provided certainty about how much water would be available in the Murray Darling Basin and how the system would work once the plan was finalised”.
The word certainty was promoted to this community by politicians and the MDBA at the first draft of the Basin Plan; I am not sure many people see the value of these promises any more.
Last week’s Pastoral Times newspaper included my initial response on the latest political deal, including mentioning 36 projects as part of the Sustainable Diversion Adjustment mechanism. Projects in the Murray Valley were to reduce the risk of water taken out of agricultural production.
However, the deal also gave us another 450GL, to deliver to the 80,000ML South Australia border flow target. In seeking answers to which other rivers apart from the Murray and Goulburn will provide these flows, there is a deathly silence from the MDBA and NSW Government.
I strongly support the concept of environmental projects in lieu of Government acquiring more and more water, but they need to be strategic, developed with due diligence and properly costed. Projects were also to go through pre-feasibility, feasibility before moving to business case. None of this has occurred - decisions went straight to business case and are now cemented in this deal.
Funding for these 36 projects is also linked to the deal on the extra 450GL - no funding to the states for the SDL projects unless they agree to the extra 450GL. Federal Opposition water spokesman Burke last week confirmed the 450GL is to come from the southern valley.
So I don’t share the great excitement of SRI. For those keen on an agricultural production-based future, which brings widespread benefits to our towns and communities based on affordable water, you may also be concerned. Speculators and investors in water as a tradeable commodity, however, will be delighted - less water equals price rises.
I know who will be opening the most expensive bottle of champagne. It will be Mr Littleproud’s electorate, the NSW section of the Northern Basin and of course South Australia. Added to this of course once river constraints are ‘resolved’ (part of the 605 projects) I suspect large scale corporates below the Choke could more freely trade water out of this region.
A sensible alternative could be to look at the Basin Plan failures and this additional deal as it really is. Why can’t we think of how to reduce risks, including a flexible and adaptive approach to environmental projects, accompanied by a reduction in flooding risks and no further water loss to this region?