Balance needs to be restored to the Murray Darling Basin Plan, a Moama, NSW, water forum has been told.
About 300 people at the Uniting the Southern Basin Open Water Forum, run by Deniliquin, NSW, based lobby group Speak Up, was told there was a lack of balance and honesty in what was a flawed plan.
The forum brought together farmers and community members from throughout northern Victoria, southern New South Wales and South Australia.
“The plan hasn’t got the balance right,” Speak Up chairman Shelley Scoullar said.
“We believe that’s indisputable.
“It has been dominated by political expediency, instead of ensuring we effectively balance environmental, social and economic needs.
“To maximise environmental outcomes we need a focus on quality, not quantity."
She said Southern Basin communities had been abandoned by politicians and representatives who buried their heads in the sand or chose to toe the party line, instead of seeking the truth.
“We have been out-resourced by ideologies that choose to ignore an objective and evidence-based approach, instead using information to mislead the general public.”
The forum passed two resolutions, calling for no further acquisition of water in the Southern Basin and balance in the plan.
Members asked for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Basin State water ministers and premiers to meet with Speak Up, "so that our balanced options can be presented on behalf of the grassroots community.”
Ms Scoullar said Speak Up believed the MDBA and Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) needed to demonstrate the benefits of the water already held in environmental accounts.
Speak Up was also calling for:
• An assessment of what volumes can actually be physically and safely delivered in the Murray, Goulburn and Murrumbidgee Rivers without causing negative social or economic impacts.
• A revision of Basin Plan flow targets to South Australia and re-evaluation of flow contributions from the Darling River.
• A commitment that Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) projects will be flexible, adaptive, with capacity for new projects to be included.
• All regions across the entire Murray Darling Basin should be brought up to equal standard for compliance, metering and measurement of water, by installing telemetry and metering in regions which are under metered.
• Investment in localised projects at the end of the system to address South Australia’s concerns associated with the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth with more sustainable solutions.
• Investigation of these localised projects in South Australia to incorporate the option of an additional lock in South Australia (Lock Zero) to better manage Lower Lakes in times of extended drought periods.
“These sensible options can bring balance back to the Basin Plan, at the same time as it achieves the ultimate goal of protecting the environment and Australian rural communities,” Mrs Scoullar said.
“Across the Southern Basin, politicians have accepted that we can be collateral damage for a political plan that has been more about gaining environmental votes than actually protecting the environment."
GRAVE CONCERNS: Edward River council Mayor Norm Brennan said he had been told by the MDBA it took eight years to determine the full effects of water removal, from river systems.
“It operates on an eight-year cycle,” Mr Brennan said.
"When you remove water from day one to year three, really not much happens.
“It starts to get very serious from year three to year eight.
“The majority of buybacks finished in 2014.
“So we still have another four years to find out the impact of the total amount of the 2100 gigalitres (GL) that has gone out of the system.”
“We have to draw a line in the sand.
“The whole thing has been run by the politicians.
"They should not be in the water debate, they don’t live in our communities yet they are making decisions for us."
Farmers raised concerns about the ability of the Murray and Goulburn Rivers to carry the volumes of water, required at the South Australian border.
Murray Valley Private Diverters chairman John Lolicato said all river systems had limited carrying capacity.
He said there were four chokes, or narrowing of the Murray River, between the Hume Dam and the South Australian border, which restricted flows.
Once the maximum amount of water was reached, water would flood neighbouring farmland.
“The chokes we have got are starting to collapse because we are trying to put too much water through them,” Mr Lolicato said.
“Whatever political imperative you might have, the simple matter is that water won’t fit.
“There are physical constraints in there that you can’t do anything about.
“The thing we can’t get the MDBA to accept is the rivers can’t sustain the extra volumes of water people are talking about.”
He said there was also an ever-increasing demand for water for horticulture around Swan Hill, which authorities would be unable to supply.
Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association’s Jan Beer said the Constraints strategy – which aimed to ease restrictions on river flows - was neither feasible nor achievable.
It was not possible to deliver the 450GL environmental upwater to South Australia, nor achieve flows at the South Australian border of between 60,000 and 80,000 megalitres (ML) a day, without flooding private property.
Ms Beer said proceeding with the recovery of further 450GL environmental water and the Constraint Management Strategy was not based on evidence.
“They can’t deliver the 450GL and the strategy should be abandoned,” Ms Beer said.
Planned “hydro-cues” – or adding additional environmental flows from Eildon Weir to the Goulburn River – should also be abandoned.
“Even when flows are restricted to in-channel flows, landowners have grave concerns that due to the inability to accurately predict tributary inflows in the steep upper catchments, and overcome flow-time lag, the proponents have been forced to propose releasing environmental water from Eildon Weir and piggyback it on high (Goulburn River) tributary flows.
“This is fraught with danger and will lead to tragedy, due to the very fast-rising upstream tributaries.
“All focus has been on the main river channel, with very little investigation of impacts on tributaries and subsequent increased duration of inundation.”
Flooding in the upper tributaries of the Goulburn River would be prolonged, as they could not drain and recede, as quickly as normal.
She said Victorian Water Minister, Lisa Neville, had said all Goulburn River flows were to be in-channel, to the top of the bank.
There would be no flooding of private property or easements.
“If Victoria stands by these statements, this means that it is simply not possible to deliver the 450GL upwater and large environmental flood flows downstream," Ms Beer said.
She said the MDBA had to “be a kangaroo loose in the top paddock” if it believed it had the ability to manipulate flows from the upstream catchments, ‘piggy-back’ releases from major dams on high tributary flows and deliver them downstream for five to six weeks.
WATER MARKETS: RM Consulting Group’s Matthew Toulmin said water markets were a powerful tool in allowing people the chance to change their business model.
“But it sometimes feels like you are on a surfboard, with a wave driving you into the beach, and sometimes you take a tumble,” Mr Toulmin said.
He said taking water out of the consumptive pool meant there was a smaller volume available to trade.
“When we have a smaller market, with a bigger demand, we have prices going up,” he said.
“One of the impacts is that average price of water the dairy or rice farmer is paying is $50-$100 a megalitre more, in the temporary market, than they would have.
“We know of too many cases where people in South Australia sold water to the government at a premium, and then they bought the water back from Murray Irrigation or the GMID.
“What hasn’t been adequately recognised is not where the water was bought from.”