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Australia Scrapping the Murray-Darling Basin Plan risks a worse outcome for farmers

02:50  01 december  2019
02:50  01 december  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

SunRice sheds more jobs as Murray Darling Basin Plan 'failing the rice industry'

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Southern basin farmers have contributed the most to the Murray - Darling basin plan . Disallowing the basin plan amendments will compound the challenges.

The Murray – Darling basin is a large geographical area in the interior of southeastern Australia. Its name is derived from its two major rivers, the Murray River and the Darling River.

a little boy wearing a green shirt: The campaigners say buybacks, high water prices and zero allocations are killing towns in the food bowl. (ABC Rural: Clint Jasper)© Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation The campaigners say buybacks, high water prices and zero allocations are killing towns in the food bowl. (ABC Rural: Clint Jasper)

As furious irrigators prepare to descend on Parliament House in Canberra, unified by their desire to tear up the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, many others are questioning what doing so would achieve.

The $13 billion plan to remove water from farmers and return it to the environment has never been popular in southern New South Wales, which is home for the vast majority of the protesters.

They torched a draft version of the plan, and now, six years after it was formally enacted, they still want to burn it.

EXCLUSIVE: How drought-stricken farmers - including families of two irrigators who suicided- are being sued for $610k after the government mismanaged their water and then 'reneged on a deal to pay court costs'

  EXCLUSIVE: How drought-stricken farmers - including families of two irrigators who suicided- are being sued for $610k after the government mismanaged their water and then 'reneged on a deal to pay court costs' Drought-stricken farmers are being chased for $610,000 after the NSW government reneged on a 'verbal deal' to cover their legal costs after admitting it had mismanaged water rights.  Nearly 150 irrigators from the Murray Darling took the State Government to court over botched management of their water rights in 2007.Deniliquin sheep farmer Greg Sandford told Daily Mail Australia that, under the original deal, everyone was told they would lose 68 per cent of their water allocation but would be compensated for the loss.

Failure to meet deadlines for water resource plans could jeopardise the entire strategy, royal commission told.

The Murray - Darling Basin Authority also commissioned a review that found a poor compliance culture in several states and a lack of will on behalf of the MDBA to The MDBA investigation concluded the MDBA, which has responsibility for the whole-of- basin outcomes , has not given sufficient attention to

As the plan has progressed, it has removed , with most of that water coming from New South Wales and Victoria.

The fury and desperation in these communities cannot be understated.

When farmers sold their water to the Commonwealth, it cut the productive capacity of the regions, farmers left and businesses shut, and with them went pupils in schools and members of sporting and civic groups.

At the same time, water that was once used in these areas to grow rice, pastures for dairy and cereal crops is now traded downstream to produce almonds, citrus and grapes.

Meeting increased horticultural and environmental demand for water downstream puts parts of the river under intense stress and has led to the degradation of river banks and a huge transfer of wealth from one region to another.

'You're useless': Angry farmer confronts Deputy Prime Minister with a furious spray over the Government's handling of the Murray-Darling river system

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But he says the Murray Darling Basin Plan has seen many farms fall short of their potential. It's proved controversial, with a Senate inquiry weighing up its effect on farmers , river communities and the environment. The Murray Darling Basin Authority, which administers the scheme, said concerns

Then in 2012, the Murray - Darling Basin Plan was agreed to by the federal government and four states to manage the water The Murray - Darling Basin Authority also hit back, saying the royal commission proposed "abandoning the More bad news. Since the royal commission report was released, two

But removing the basin plan will not unwind the damage these communities have suffered, nor will it return water that's been brought back.

There is a drought

The Murray-Darling Basin is in the grip of the worst two- to three-year drought on record.

The basin plan has no bearing on the immediate anger over the lack of water allocation, because the rules for sharing water are laid out in the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, which hasn't changed substantially since the 1980s.

In the southern basin, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia share the water contained in the major storages at the top of the Murray River (Hume and Dartmouth dams), Lake Victoria and the Menindee Lakes.

South Australia's share of Murray River water is fixed at 1,850 billion litres a year under the agreement — not the basin plan.

New South Wales and Victoria must supply that volume equally from their shares of the Murray River before they allocate water to meet their own urban, industrial and irrigation commitments.

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The Murray - Darling basin plan , a joint agreement between the commonwealth, Queensland, NSW The early years of the plan focused on buying up water rights from farmers to reduce the overall Incredibly the Murray - Darling basin plan does not include climate change impacts in its modelling

The Murray Darling Basin Plan will be delivered after we struck a deal with Labor. Irrigators and farm groups such as the National Farmers Federation are supporting the so called sustainable The Murray - Darling Basin Authority is strongly in favour of the projects and has warned that this vote

For the past few years, drought has meant tributary inflows to the Murray River have been miniscule, meaning the lion's share of water for South Australia has come from Hume and Dartmouth dams.

Victoria and New South Wales use differing methodologies for allocating water, with Victoria's water budget focusing on ensuring there are reserves for the following season; nevertheless, Victoria, on average, contributes double the amount of water to the Murray than NSW.

Does the plan affect what irrigators get?

There are fears the basin plan has increased the number of years New South Wales general security licences (the last in line to receive water) are on low or zero allocations.

Inflows to the Murray River overall have been decreasing — in the two decades to 1999, 12 years experienced above-average inflows; in the following two decades to 2019, only four years experienced above-average inflows.

With less rain, the variability of allocations, especially for those last in line to receive water, will also become more variable.

Last week, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro declared yet again that his state was interested in walking away from the basin plan.

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The Murray – Darling Basin Plan was developed to manage the Basin as a whole connected The aim of the Murray – Darling Basin Plan is to bring the Basin back to a healthier and sustainable level, while Water managers must be flexible and dynamic to achieve the best possible outcomes .

Murray - Darling Basin Catchment management Water conflict Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Transboundary river basins Australian Conservation Foundation (2012) South Australia’s federal MPs and the quest for a Basin Plan that returns the Murray River to health.

"We need flexibility — in times of drought and what we're now absolutely enduring here in NSW, while South Australia continues to get water, that's just not fair," he said.

It's the Murray-Darling agreement, not the plan, that mandates 1,850 billion litres of water must flow to South Australia each year.

The plan sets targets for water recovery and a commitment from the states to put critical human needs first, but it does not determine how the states share water.

#alertme

Does the plan flush water out to sea?

NSW Water Minister Malinda Pavey told 7News in October that it was "heartbreaking" to see water flowing to the sea.

That report further claimed that "under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, water from drought-crippled NSW" flows into South Australia, "filling lakes and wetlands before it's finally flushed out to sea".

The river is a drain, so the salt flowing from upstream accumulates in South Australia.

For decades, upstream states and South Australia have been arguing over salinity in the Murray River, and salinity, especially in the Lower Lakes, remains a divisive topic.

In the late 1970s, while debating salinity management, then-NSW water minister Lin Gordon said "if South Australia expects us to flush clean water down the Murray and deprive our own users, to wash the salt away, then they are expecting a bit much".

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Co-author of study expresses shock at ‘complete ineptitude’ of government’s intervention.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority. The MDBA is responsible for planning the integrated management of the water resources of the MDB. Farmers in parts of the MDB have raised the issue of the impact of coal mining and coal seam methane extraction on the quantity and quality of the

Speaking to Sky News last week, Mr Barilaro said: "If irrigators can't access water because there is a lack of water, then why are we putting priority around environmental flows?"

"You've got to build flexibility, everyone has to share the pain, so that's the environment and irrigators."

Flows of environmental water do not get priority over any release of water from the major storages.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEHW) has still had water available to use this season because it has entitlements from other states.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) data shows that between June 1 and last week, 27 per cent of the water released from Hume Dam was environmental water.

The basin plan sets targets for salinity levels through the river and for the Lower Lakes, and aims to export two tonnes of salt from the Murray every year — but this is a long-term average.

Many protesters are not convinced that the lakes should be maintained as a freshwater ecosystem, and therefore find the notion of flushing salt from the system absurd.

At a minimum, the CEHW aims to get 650 gigalitres of water over the barrages at Goolwa to get fresh water into the Coorong and maintain its estuarine habitat.

Last year it failed to meet that target, and this year it remains below the target level.

Nearly all environmental and irrigation licences are the same

Much of the water recovered through voluntary direct buybacks is now held by the CEWH.

But even if those entitlements were still in the hands of irrigators, under current water-sharing rules and inflows, and the way NSW sets allocations, they would still be on 0 per cent.

Minister blasts Coles on milk drought levy

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The report comes as drought grips the Murray - Darling basin . Walker said it was “problematical” that the project could meet the requirement that it produce “equivalent environmental outcomes ” given its important role as a source of flows for the imperilled lower Darling and as a fish nursery.

The Murray - Darling Basin Declaration was signed on February 5 by 12 eminent scientists and economists — Quentin Grafton, Darla Hatton To make matters worse , just two months ago the Murray - Darling Basin Authority recommended to parliament that buying back of environmental flows

If New South Wales walks away from the plan, or if it is scrapped, the Water Act would remain and with it the Commonwealth's mandate to meet its international obligations to maintain ecologically significant sights like the Coorong, so it could not sell the water back to irrigators.

While the plan sets out targets for water recovery, governments don't need the plan to recover water — it was happening prior to the plan under the Living Murray and Water4Rivers programs.

Further, the CEHW's roles are defined in the Water Act, not the basin plan, so scrapping the plan will neither eliminate environmental flow nor return the water it holds to farmers.

So what is flowing past the 'back gate'?

No-one would deny that watching water flow past a farming region like the Riverina, without the ability to use it, wasn't upsetting.

The overarching objective is to allow water to flow to its highest-value use — markets pre-date the basin plan, starting soon after state governments separated land rights and water rights.

Large corporate players with deep pockets have been entering the market ever since.

More than 70 per cent of water released from Hume Dam between June 1 and last week was for downstream human and irrigation users.

Water prices have been hitting Millennium Drought levels, and there are predictions they will surpass $1,000 per megalitre this summer.

It has priced out irrigators who have decided to rely entirely on the spot market for water.

This year, the MDBA reported 620 gigalitres of water lost in "conveyance", the "cost" of moving water downstream, which rubs salt into the wounds of those going without water.

There is also deep suspicion right along the Murray about the influence investors have on prices, something the national competition watchdog is actively investigating.

But state governments have total control over land, including planning, and water rights.

Water wars escalate as Victoria slams Murray-Darling power shift

  Water wars escalate as Victoria slams Murray-Darling power shift Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has criticised plans for the Murray-Darling inspector-general's role, ahead of a crunch meeting next week.Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has outlined her criticism of the Morrison government's plan to hand powers to Mr Keelty in a letter to federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud.

The Murray - Darling Basin is the heart of Australia's agricultural industry, representing 14 per cent of all agricultural output and housing almost 40 per cent of Australia's farmers . The area is also one of the biggest consumers of Australia's scarce water resources and was subject to a severe drought over the

Under state planning guidelines, the irrigation demand (for a fixed amount of water) has expanded unchecked for years, creating a situation where, in the near future, water demand will be more than what the river can deliver in all but the wettest years.

Victoria has put a pause on new developments, while New South Wales has not made any changes.

So why can the plan?

There are plenty of reasons for irrigators and environmentalists to be angry at the plan, and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and plenty of reasons taxpayers across the country should be concerned about its implementation.

In a five-year review of the plan's implementation, the Productivity Commission (PC) issued a scathing list of warnings for basin governments, saying many of the projects designed to avoid the use of further water buybacks are so far behind schedule that taxpayers could be faced with a $560 million cost blowout to achieve the strict deadlines for water recovery.

The report was highly critical about the openness and transparency of the MDBA and the basin governments.

"Many stakeholders do not perceive that basin governments have taken the necessary time to listen and understand their concerns, to conduct the evidence-based analysis required to understand potential impacts and to explore options for managing these," the report said.

"They are also concerned that governments have been unwilling to listen and respond to community views, and they have not considered these views in decision making, or clearly communicated the reasons for their decisions.

"This has led to distrust, a lack of confidence and growing scepticism on the ability and commitment of basin governments to successfully implement and achieve the outcomes of the basin plan."

Water wars escalate as Victoria slams Murray-Darling power shift .
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has criticised plans for the Murray-Darling inspector-general's role, ahead of a crunch meeting next week.Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has outlined her criticism of the Morrison government's plan to hand powers to Mr Keelty in a letter to federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud.

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