‘Not a waste’

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

A senior manager of the Murray Darling Basin Authority refuses to concede that river bank overflows at a time when NSW Murray Valley irrigators had no access to their water allocations to grow food is squandering an important resource.

The authority’s executive director of river management Andrew Reynolds was in Deniliquin recently to discuss the MDBA’s conveyance report.

The report indicated water losses so far this water year were 665 gigalitres, and were projected to be between 850 gigalitres and 1000 gigalitres by the end of May.

In the Murray Valley, those overbank losses amount to at least 300,000 megalitres, which would underpin significant food and fibre production.

When asked by the Pastoral Times how the MDBA could justify the losses in the local area, Mr Reynolds’ first response was ‘‘it is not wasted water’’.

‘‘Every season is different,’’ Mr Reynolds said.

‘‘While New South Wales general security (irrigation allocation) is zero, we do still need to run the system to those with allocations as needed.

‘‘With low tributary inflows we have had to use the Hume Dam.

‘‘It is not necessarily a common circumstance, but it does happen.

‘‘In this instance putting water in the forest is about meeting consumptive need.’’

Mr Reynolds also reportedly made a number of other ‘‘astonishing admissions’’ when meeting with community and farming groups in Deniliquin.

The MDBA has acknowledged it is sending vast amounts of water to support an unnatural environment because that is what it has been told to do.

It admits this is having an adverse impact on upstream sections of the Murray River, but the approach is unlikely to change.

It has also finally agreed with the long-held claim of advocacy groups that the Basin Plan has a freshwater solution at the end of the system, despite these historically being estuarine waters.

Speak Up Campaign spokesperson Shelley Scoullar said as a result, the 30 local representatives in attendance were given no confidence that the Murray River is being run efficiently.

Mrs Scoullar said Mr Reynolds acknowledged there had been significant water losses over the summer as authorities tried to pour water down the system, beyond its capacity, to meet South Australia’s and downstream needs.

‘‘We estimate due to running the river above capacity about 300 gigalitres (300,000 megalitres) ran out into the forest during spring and summer. That is enough to grow nearly one billion loaves of bread (valued at $237 million at the farm gate), 1.8 billion serves of rice (valued at $150 million farm gate) or 2.6 million tonnes of corn silage (valued at $216 million farm gate) for starving animals battling drought and floods,’’ she said.

Mrs Scoullar said the frustration for community leaders was plain to see at the meeting, but it became increasingly obvious this was not an issue for the MDBA. Its charter is to push water down to South Australia, which keeps the Lower Lakes full for recreation or is poured out to sea.

‘‘South Australia has outsmarted the eastern states through the entire Basin Plan process, so good luck to them.

‘‘There is no doubt the waste of water that occurs when you send such huge quantities to South Australia, or prioritising a boating regatta over food production, is not an issue for the MDBA. Their role is to follow the Basin Plan guidelines, regardless of the consequences.

‘‘Andrew Reynolds agreed with us that the Murray River was wearing the pain as a result of water policy and consequences around water sharing plans, but his job is to send water down the river; he is not responsible for adverse impacts. The trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who wants to be accountable for the damage the flows are causing.’’