VFF calls for moratorium on new irrigation developments

By Geoff Adams

The VFF is calling on the Victorian, NSW and South Australian governments, in co-ordination with Murray-Darling Basin Authority, to impose a moratorium on new irrigation developments in the Mallee pending a review of the capacity of the Murray River to meet increasing irrigation demands.

‘‘The growing horticultural industry downstream of the Barmah Choke is changing irrigation demand patterns and increasing the risk of water delivery shortfalls,’’ VFF water chair Richard Anderson said.

‘‘We need all states to support a moratorium on new irrigation developments while water trading rules and environmental damage from high water flows are reviewed.’’

Last week, the Murray Darling Association, which represents local governments across the basin, lobbied the authority board over the damage of high flows to the rivers.

Greater Shepparton City Council’s Cr Dennis Patterson was one of a number of speakers who had the opportunity to present to the authority’s board and senior managers.

‘‘I was happy with the hearing we got,’’ Cr Patterson said.

He outlined the damage being caused in the Goulburn River and the effect of trying to push too much water through Barmah Choke, to address regional water account balances caused by water trading.

‘‘No-one from the authority or our association challenged the science behind this problem,’’ Cr Patterson said.

The VFF urged the authority to acknowledge the increasing risk of delivery shortfalls and environmental damage currently occurring to the river.

‘‘In the past, most water used downstream of the Barmah Choke occurred in the Torrumbarry Irrigation area for pasture,’’ Mr Anderson said.

‘‘Water was used in the spring and autumn for annual pastures, and perennial pastures were irrigated over the summer.

‘‘Now there is one larger and more sustained peak for irrigating perennial horticulture throughout summer.

‘‘The total volume of water available for irrigation below the Barmah Choke at 100 per cent allocation is 1439Gl across Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

‘‘However, we estimate that the total water requirement of agriculture in the Victorian Mallee is 780Gl annually. This is over half of the total water available below the Barmah Choke. Similar numbers can be expected for South Australia and NSW.

‘‘Therefore, catastrophic water shortfalls can be expected in the next drought, based on existing demands.

‘‘Forcing the Murray River to flow at full bank is causing bank erosion. The continuous erosion reduces the river’s water carrying capacity as it flows through the Barmah Choke,’’ Mr Anderson said.

‘‘Increased erosion has also been observed along the lower Goulburn River due to the high summer flows needed to transfer water from the Goulburn to the Murray to supply downstream environmental and irrigation demands.

‘‘There is a limit to how much water can be physically delivered downstream. We need this moratorium to investigate new trading rules to protect both irrigators and the environment.

‘‘Irrigators are now experiencing third-party impacts because of weak water trading rules that do not properly consider third-party and environmental impacts as required by the Basin Water Market and Trading Objectives and Principles in Schedule 3 of the Commonwealth Water Act.’’