A MEETING of state and federal water ministers on tomorrow in Canberra represents a pivotal juncture in the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s implementation, to try and avoid damaging farming communities.
The ministerial council will decide whether to advance with about 35 water savings projects, to be tabled by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), to try and deliver 650 gigalitres of the plan’s base-line 2750GLs target in environmental water flows.
National Farmers’ Federation water policy spokesman Les Gordon said the high level meeting represented an important stage in the process with the projects underpinning a “credible pathway” for delivering the 650GLs of ‘down water’ in the Basin Plan.
But Mr Gordon said that was still “a long way” from the projects actually being delivered in a way that ensured farming communities didn’t suffer further damage due to loss of productive water.
He said once the Basin governments agreed to the projects to compile the 650GLs component of the plan, a lot of work was then needed to develop the projects further and engage stakeholders and broader communities to ensure the projects are delivered “in a way that doesn’t impact negatively on those communities”.
“To be honest, at the moment, our understanding of those projects is little more than a headline,” he said.
“We can see where they’re going and what they’re trying to achieve but there’s very little ownership of it.
“However that’s the next phase.
“The first step is to get the projects on the table and modelled and then agreed to by the end of the year and then the hard part is bringing along the stakeholders and communities, in terms of implementing the actual impacts.”
Mr Gordon said nobody really understood the detail of the projects, “because it’s largely not there”.
He said what detail was available, hadn’t been shared at any real level with the basin communities and stakeholders involved.
“That’s the second phase and the first phase is to get the 650GLs signed-off and approved and accepted at a ministerial council and at the MDBA level which is due this Friday,” he said.
“All the projects had to be submitted before June 30 so this ministerial council meeting this Friday, is the end of the line.
“But these sorts of projects instinctively make us nervous especially when there’s little known about them, so there’s a bit of work to be done in that space in understanding what the likely impacts are and mitigating them.”
Mr Gordon said the worst outcome from the meeting was not getting sign-off on the 650GLs.
He said examples of projects to achieve the 650GLs included reconfiguration of Menindee Lakes in NSW which was that state government’s “big ticket item”.
He said a project stakeholders needed to understand more about and was least understood is one called ‘hydro cues or natural flow cues’.
“It’s really about using environmental water in such a way that piggy backs on existing events and reduces the need for water to produce particular outcomes,” he said.
“But we’ve said all along that this is about achieving outcomes other than just water flows, which is more important at this part of the process, than any other time.”
“About 35 projects are being touted at this stage.
“This process was due to be complete about 12-months ago but the states were given more time to come up with new projects.”
National Irrigators Council; CEO Steve Whan said he welcome the COAG meeting’s endorsement last week of the independent socio economic study as part of the 450GLs ‘up-water component’ of the Basin Plan and endorsement of the continuing work on Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) adjustment measures.
But he said this week’s meeting was “far more important” for basin communities at it had the “critical task” of signing off on the list of SDL adjustment measures to be assessed, and was a “key milestone” to provide more understanding of whether the 650GLs of SDL adjustments would be achieved.
Mr Whan said there was now “substantial evidence” to show that water buybacks have had very negative impacts on Basin communities and the meeting contained a critical step in potentially achieving 650GLs of the Basin Plan’s target without negative impacts on communities.
“It might not seem like a big deal but it is a critical step on the way to achieving the Basin Plan and if it doesn’t happen it could put the brakes on the process entirely,” he said, about reaching agreement to advance the efficiency measures.
“NIC would also hope Ministers might discuss and come to some agreement on the Northern Basin Review, the assessment by the MDBA shows that the proposed changes from this review have no measurable impact on the Southern Basin and South Australia and they have no impact on achieving environmental objectives.
“The socio-economic assessment by the MDBA in the Northern Basin showed that taking water from productive use had conclusively hurt communities with hundreds of families affected by job losses.
“Irrigators didn’t get all we wanted out the Northern Basin review but it is certainly better than the status quo.
“It should be made absolutely clear that adjusting the SDL target in the Northern Basin and looking at the way ‘up-water might be delivered is entirely consistent with the Plan as agreed by parliament in 2012.”