‘Moral urgency’

By Southern Riverina News

‘‘It has now become a moral urgency to deal with the issues of a zero water allocation.’’

That is the emotion-charged view of local landholder, business owner and community and agricultural advocate Vicki Meyer, particularly as the community braces for yet another water allocation announcement next week which provides no water for food and fibre production in the NSW Murray Valley.

The Speak Up Campaign vice chair said it’s more than farmers who are feeling the impacts of the enduring zero per cent allocation in this important food bowl region.

She said it’s already cost this community in the job losses that have started to roll out as a result of the staged shut down of the Deniliquin Rice Mill over the next six months — a direct result of no water being available to grow rice.

Ms Meyer says every dollar earned in the agricultural industry can benefit eight different local businesses, and the economic losses this community is facing are very real.

She has this week taken aim at the decision makers who she says seem to have forgotten about the best interests of communities.

‘‘This continued zero per cent of general security is actually hurting us — anger we can deal with, but hurt is much harder,’’ said Ms Meyer, who is CEO of Deniliquin Freighters.

‘‘The real impact is that we (Freighters) are seeing no growth — we are in survival mode.

‘‘We’ll need to look at our sponsorship very closely, and right now profit is a historical word. Generally speaking wages haven’t gone anywhere and businesses are cutting the cloth to suit the crop, literally, and everyone has to fall in line. That means a downturn in the economy.

‘‘We have no ability to transform water into dollars for our local retailers, we can’t convert water into freight, or into tonnes of rice to keep our industry going.

‘‘They call it a general security entitlement, but we don’t have any entitlement at all. But who is fighting for us?

‘‘When will it return to thinking about what is in the best interest of communities?

‘‘The only thing we can do is stay united and fight against these zero allocations — to fight against having assets we cannot use.’’

Ms Meyer said while it is not unprecedented for this district to be on a zero per cent general security allocation, it is unprecedented to be in this situation when water is freely flowing through the system and out to sea at its end.

She said it’s a very real example of how water policy — particularly the Water Act 2007 which was the guideline for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan — and the people who implement it care more about environmental outcomes than people who live in the basin.

She said something has to change ‘‘and change very quickly, because we need more than hope to fix this’’.

‘‘What has made this zero per cent unprecedented is that there is water in the dams, and we’re seeing an unprecedented amount of environmental water — which they call operational water — through our forests.

‘‘Murray Irrigation’s licence is 800,000 megalitres and the five per cent efficiency we received is about 40,000 megalitres of that.

‘‘Through the entire rest of the system from the Hume Dame, they (governments and water authorities) could not even give us one per cent, or 8000 megalitres, yet they are letting in excess of that amount go through to the end of the system and out the Murray mouth.

‘‘The Murray Valley should have had an off-allocation from the rain event in Wangaratta too, so we have to issue a ‘please explain’ to the authorities and to the New South Wales and Federal Governments.

‘‘We’ve gone to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to ask why we’re still on zero per cent, and we’ve been told we have to speak to the New South Wales Government because they have no idea.

‘‘We now have to look at the legitimacy of those who are supposed to be looking after us — the water authorities and our governments.’’

Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley has also taken aim on the issue, saying that a review of the existing environmental watering strategy becomes yet another critical step to ensure the Basin Plan can ‘‘become ‘workable’ in my communities’’.

‘‘What is needed is stronger, more meaningful engagement with communities, with a focus on what the Plan should look like, and to reflect on how it might be changed to improve local impacts,’’ she said.

‘‘I have now written to the Prime Minister requesting a social and economic assessment of the state of the Southern Basin, so we can make our case to all governments that ongoing low general security allocations are a brutal and unintended consequence of the Basin Plan.

‘‘We desperately need an audit of the use of environmental water; one which is subject to an independent assessment by the Commonwealth Auditor General.

‘‘A change to rules on how water is managed within and between valleys, above and below the Barmah Choke, and between the environment and operational use is also required.’’