AFTER 20 weeks of consultation with interested parties, the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has released its revised draft plan.
However, the majority of agricultural industries feel their concerns have been completely ignored.
The core issue of the debate remains the 2750Gl of water per year the plan proposes to put back into the river system - a figure which has not changed since the first draft.
While the Victorian and NSW governments and irrigators say 2750Gl is too much, the South Australian Government and some environmental groups says it is too little.
Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association (GVIA) executive officer Zara Lowien said the association was disappointed to find little of their concerns had been addressed in the revised plan.
GVIA made a submission which included 22 recommendations to the MDBA based on a core acceptance of the current water-sharing plans and it’s achievements. Ms Lowien said GVIA had felt the environmental performance of the water plan had not been recognised in the basis plan, and the association also had some issues with the science behind the amount of water reclaimed.
Another concern was the time frame of the implementation (in 2015 the amended plan will be available for consultation and by 2019 the final plan will be completed), and the environmental plans.
“We’ve seen little to no change in the new information with the exception that the MDBA have aimed to clarify a lot of their intent and I suppose provide more information on some of their policies within the plan,” Ms Lowien said.
“But fundamentally the core issues that we’ve got haven’t been addressed.”
Currently, 27 per cent of the Gwydir Valley’s water is held by the government. This has occurred through a gradual buy-back process by the Federal Government since 2008.
Ms Lowien said the Gwydir is in a unique position in that it already meets the water recovery targets set out under the Basin Plan. However, Ms Lowein said GVIA still couldn’t find evidence to support this volume of water already bought back.
“Our biggest concern in the Basin Plan is that (the MDBA) have already accepted that level of recovery and basically sought to justify that without looking at what our water sharing plan already delivered.
“We don’t want other valley’s to undergo the significant socio-economic loss that we’ve encountered,” she said.
The Basin Plan has been handed to state and federal water ministers, but only the latter may change it. Groups in favour of altering the amount of water reclaimed are urging the minister to make changes.
The NSW Irrigators Council says that it is now up to Federal Minister, Tony Burke, to give the Basin Plan the balance that it has lacked in the debate that has now lasted over two years.
Shadow Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Water, Barnaby Joyce, said the revised plan had “not excited anybody”.
“There is no certainty when the minister himself talks about the fact that the figure 2750Gl could go up to 3200 or down to 2400, or anywhere in between. That’s not certainty, that’s a threat,” Minister Joyce said.
“Every Australian who pushes a shopping trolley has a stake in the Murray-Darling as it produces 40 per cent of our food.
“The Coalition is prepared to sit down with Minister Burke and get a better outcome but the 2.1 million people who live in the Murray-Darling deserve better than this.”
If the plan is not changed, Ms Lowein said the current detrimental effects of water cuts will continue in the Moree region and across NSW. You know that an investment ratio of every $1 in irrigation money is $3 returned to the community - so (water cuts) give the community a huge hit.”
Cotton grower Ian Cush, of “Deerpark” south west of Moree agreed, saying the biggest effect of water buy-backs on the
“The more activity or industry we have in Moree from cotton, the more people in the community there are to service the industry. We’ve maintained our operation, but the community is deteriorating due to water being taken away from the industry.
“The fact that Moree and the surrounding areas are very sensitive to changes in water availability... we will never see the booms we once did because we have 27 per cent less water and that’s something we’ll feel in the next few years now that we’ve gone back into better seasonal cycles.
“We don’t know the exact dollar value or the bales that maybe reduced ...but we’ve got more than 80,000ha developed for irrigation and we won’t see anywhere near that amount planted last year.”