Less water will be ‘disastrous’

March 03, 2016

Natalie Akers speaks on behalf of the Australian Dairy Industry Council.

Agricultural and regional Victorian leaders are arguing for a temporary moratorium on the extra 450Gl of ‘up-water’ required under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, to avoid a ‘disastrous’ impact on agricultural production.

The Australian Dairy Industry Council and a water leadership forum want to see a pause in the implementation of the transfer of water to the environment.

The Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Forum warns that implementation of the 450Gl up-water program would result in:

Water available for the dairy sector declining by 100000Ml or more.

An overall 10 per cent to 20 per cent decline in dairy production with some offset from an increase in maize production as fodder.

A likely price rise of $35-$50/Ml in the cost of allocation water — putting more pressure on the cost of production.

Even if the 450Gl is achieved through a farm efficiency program, where farmers get money for on-farm upgrades, the water savings will still be a loss to the region.

The basin plan says the target could be achieved this way through projects, which have ‘‘neutral or improved socio-economic impacts’’.

The leadership forum says the major route through which the 450Gl will be generated is the Commonwealth On-Farm Further Irrigation Efficiency program, which will assist irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin to modernise their on-farm irrigation infrastructure while returning water savings to the environment.

In actual practice, the leadership forum says that on completion of the projects, landholders have often purchased additional water to replace the water transferred to the Commonwealth.

The proponents of COFFIE argue the program can be implemented with neutral or improved socio-economic impacts, as individual landholders are voluntary participants in the scheme and use the proceeds to offset debt and enhance productivity.

‘‘This assumes that individual landholders would not participate unless they believed that the program delivered personal benefits,’’ a forum submission said.

‘‘This submission argues that using COFFIE to generate the 450Gl of water savings may be neutral at a farm scale but that it will generate severe adverse socio-economic impacts when assessed at a community and whole-of-system scale.

‘‘The proposal will, at a minimum, reduce the total water available for diversion by 450Gl in all years except the drought scenario, where a reduced allocation of high-security entitlement will result in an average reduction of 225Gl.’’

Representing the Australian Dairy Industry Council, Natalie Akers said the work should be focused on achieving the 2750Gl first.

The council wants to see the ‘‘neutral impact’’ test changed.

‘‘We do know that when there is less water in the system, it does have socio-economic impacts on the region,’’ Ms Akers said.

The council is worried the plan will remove more water from productive agriculture.

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