In a draft, basin-wide environmental watering strategy intended to solve problems downstream associated with water hoarding and over extraction occurring in New South Wales, the Federal Government is seeking to buy back an additional 450GL of water from Victorian licence holders.
According to Greater Shepparton City councillor, Cr Dennis Patterson, who is also the Murray Darling Association Region 2 delegate, “This would be an environmental catastrophe for the region.”
High water flows into the Goulburn River is causing damaging degradation and cannot be sustained. The Barmah Choke has lost capacity from 10,000ML a day to around 9,000ML with the overflow spilling into the forest.
“Victorian farmers need the water. If the available water volume is reduced, it leads to further speculation by non-engaged water right owners,” said Cr Patterson.
As it currently stands, Victorian farmers are cautious of allowing further water to flow past them toward the Barmah Choke for environmental use, with fears of further job losses, especially in the dairy industry in the Goulburn Valley.
In an announcement made last week following a Murray Darling Basin ministerial council meeting in Canberra, Federal Minister, David Littleproud has called on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with terms of reference, encouraging them to look into ownership of water rights and how the process can be made more transparent.
Minister for Water, Lisa Neville says Victoria has commenced work on improving the transparency and effectiveness of the state’s water market and is happy to share this information with the ACCC to assist with their review.
In proposing an independent panel to peer-review the Murray River Capacity Risks project in a bid to learn from the season’s deliverability shortfalls and understand risks associated with future delivery, Minister Neville said, “I’ve seen first hand the impact high trade and high water flows this year had on the Goulburn River – which is why we need to get the balance right when it comes to protecting both the environment and existing water users.”
“I will be raising the need for further investigation into accountability and transparency issues, while also encouraging other states to follow Victoria’s lead when it comes to taking clear action to protect our rivers.”
Due to greater marginal gain for the development of horticultural commodities downstream of the Goulburn River past the Barmah Choke (such as cotton and almond farming), these companies can afford to pay a lot for water – much more than the dairy farmers in our region.
United Dairy Farmers of Victoria president, Paul Mumford said, “Dairy farmers in northern Victoria, who produce over 80 percent of the milk from the basin, are telling me that the Basin Plan has resulted in local job losses and is creating a great deal of uncertainty for the future of their businesses.”
Overlaying concerns regard the droughts ongoing affect on the region and projections for future water inflows into the river system. The Bureau of Meteorology’s current forecast for the inflows into the Goulburn Weir are that they might expect only 60 percent of historic volumes over the next three months.
In the absence of adequate water storage and sufficient rainfall in the region, coupled with an unregulated market forcing up prices, the likelihood that more farmers have their backs to the wall seems ever more probable.