Namoi Water sees Northern Basin Reduction disallowment as opportunity to review and improve the amendments

Namoi Water executive officer Jon Baker.
Namoi Water executive officer Jon Baker.

Namoi Water has called for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to go back and review its Northern Basin amendments after the recommendations were blocked in the Senate last night.

The MDBA’s amendment –  which recommended that the initial recovery target in the Northern Basin be downgraded by 70 gigalitres, from 390GL to 320GL – was adopted by the Coalition government, but the Greens brought a blocking motion, which last night was backed by Labor and Nick Xenophon Team, that prevents the reduction target coming into effect.

As part of the Northern Basin Review – conducted over four years – the Namoi Valley’s in-stream target was increased from 10,000 megalitres to 20,000ML.

Namoi Water executive officer Jon Baker said the issue is that the MDBA failed to conduct a review of the in-stream requirements from an environmental perspective.

Now that the amendments have been disallowed in parliament, Ms Baker is hoping it will be an opportunity for the MDBA to go back and properly review the Namoi in-stream targets.

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“The Northern Basin Review now has until December 8 to pass through parliament, so the disallowance doesn’t mean it’s completely off the table,” she said.

“As a result of the disallowance there is an opportunity for some of the previous issues unaddressed to be reconsidered.

“Here there’s an opportunity for the MDBA to say we can probably improve the Northern Basin amendment. It’s an opportunity for communities like ours to have a review that should have happened in the first place.”

Wee Waa irrigator and Namoi Water chair Steve Carolan said now was the time to sit back and let the dust settle before the ramifications of last night’s disallowment are clear.

He said leading up to the vote, Namoi irrigators had concerns about the level of scientific study the MDBA conducted in their valley.

“We had concerns about what they were using as the basis for their decision [to increase Namoi’s in-stream targets],” Mr Carolan said.

“Further extractions from the Namoi don’t have the scientific basis for in-stream recovery. Until then I can’t agree that’s an appropriate outcome.”

If the Namoi was to lose 20,000ML, Namoi Water estimates that equates to the loss of 70 full-time jobs and $38 million in the valley’s annual economy.

“We don’t believe communities like Wee Waa can withstand that loss of general security entitlements,” Ms Baker said.

“An average farm in Wee Waa has an average of 972ML. If we have the additional recovery of 10,000ML, that’s like losing 10 farms.

“And it’s not during times aplenty; our dams are empty now. Next year the impacts of that 10,000 being recovered, that’s when it will be felt.”

In addition to last night’s disallowment of the Northern Basin reduction, the Greens have also put forward another disallowance motion which puts 605GL of water recovery in play. It is expected to be voted on on May 17.

The MDBA found that the total recovery target can be reduced from 2750GL to 2075GL through a range of Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL) offsets.

Ms Baker said if that amendment is disallowed, it jeopardises the whole basin plan.

“We fully support the SDL offsets and 605GL amendment,” she said.

“That’s critical for NSW and Victoria and South Australia.

“If it’s disallowed it doesn’t come back and that water has to be recovered through harmful methods.

“No-one signed up to a plan to desecrate rural Australia. We want to see a healthy, working river.

“There are other ways to recover water to achieve environmental outcomes.

“This isn’t just about achieving outcomes through flow - it’s fish passage, re-snagging the river and removing carp. Those measures are things that will make a difference for our community. It’s about looking after the system in a holistic way.”

The Namoi Valley has been going through water reform for decades and Ms Baker said the constant erosion of irrigation entitlements is slowly killing communities.

“We don’t want to see the continual death by a thousand cuts,” she said.

“85 per cent of flow goes out the end of the Namoi for the environment. 

“It hurts our community. We have taken a lot of pain over a long time.

“Water licence holders have done volunteering, taking water cutbacks.

“For 20 years, we’ve been complying with the issues being thrown at us.

“That sort of erosion of property right, you wouldn’t stand for it. If you lived in Sydney and have been paying off a house for 20 years and over that time the council tells you you need to bring your fence boundaries in by 1cm each year … over 10 years, that’s a significant reduction of land. You wouldn’t stand for it.

“Water is no different to land which you purchase.”

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