THE National Irrigators Council (NIC) has urged federal parliament to adopt the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) recommendations from of the Northern Basin Review.
The Review process has raised threats about significant job losses and economic devastation to farming communities through the loss of productive water, due to the Murray Darling Basin Plan
But a proposal to reduce the volume of water to be recovered for environmental purposes in the Northern Basin by 70 gigalitres, as part of an amendment to the Basin Plan, from the Review’s findings, has now been presented to Assistant Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Anne Ruston today.
The MDBA says the proposed changes include a reduction to the water recovery target in the north of the Basin, from 390 GLs to 320 GLs.
It also includes changes to the allowable level of take in three groundwater areas, minor practical improvements to enable effective and consistent implementation of the Basin Plan.
“The proposed amendment is the result of the extensive and comprehensive Northern Basin Review, with hundreds of community members as well as environmental, Aboriginal, industry and community stakeholders contributing to the evidence base for the amendment,” the MDBA said.
NIC CEO Steve Whan said the Northern Basin Review was a thorough process, it proceeded as agreed when the Basin Plan received bipartisan support in 2012.
“The outcome is a compromise, irrigators have already given up 278GLs in the northern basin and we urged no further water recovery,” he said.
“Existing water recovery in the Northern Basin has cost hundreds of jobs in local communities and we felt the focus should be on more than flow
“However, the Review has recommended 320GLs and it is important now to ensure that this critical part of the basin plan implementation is agreed by all sides of politics”
Mr Whan said the future of the Basin Plan and Northern Basin communities “should not become a political football”.
“It needs to be made absolutely clear that when the Basin Plan, with this amendment, is implemented there will be significantly more water guaranteed to arrive at Mendindee lakes, and then down the lower darling to South Australia, than there was on the pre basin plan baseline,” he said.
“Irrigators believe that long-term environmental improvements can only be achieved with complementary measures.
“Addressing issues like cold water pollution, enabling native fish movement and managing pest species both in the river and on land in the riparian corridors is essential for triple bottom line outcomes.
“The MDBA’s independent socio-economic analysis confirms that implementing the basin plan has had a major negative impact on communities and jobs in the Northern Basin.
“The impact has been many times bigger than the impact on Adelaide of the closure of motor vehicle manufacturing and yet those communities saw nothing like the structural adjustment focus.
“The final outcome, though, is sound.
“There have been modifications to the targets that should limit further loss of jobs in Northern Basin communities but still deliver the environmental improvements we all want to see – and there is a commitment to complementary measures which will make a real difference to the health of the river system.”
The MDBA said the proposed amendment also benefitted from formal comments and suggestions from the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council in June this year.
The Minister now has 12 weeks to consider the recommendation before either tabling the amendment or returning it to the MDBA with suggested changes for consideration.
The MDBA will also recommend a separate amendment to the water recovery target in the south of the Basin, through the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism, before December 15.