The deal might sound modest, but the benefits will be big. And the timing couldn’t be better.
NSW and federal governments, along with private irrigation company Murray Irrigation Limited (MIL), have cut a deal to bypass the Barmah Choke in the Murray River by using private infrastructure that bypasses biggest natural pinch point in the system.
That means water released from dams upstream won’t get slowed down, spilled out or evaporated when it hits the Choke, which restricts flow rate down the river.
Under the new arrangements, water released for downstream irrigation and the environment can be sent down the Mulwala canal.
The canal is owned by MIL and has only been used to deliver water to its irrigator customers.
“This is a bloody good result, and its timely,” said NSW Water Minister Niall Blair.
“The new arrangement doesn’t use any extra water, in fact it’s using less with the MIL’s infrastructure.
The Riverina is in drought and there’s no new supply on offer to irrigators. Crops are dying in the ground and there is desperate need for animal feed.
When water is released from upstream dams, a not insignificant amount will be needed for conveyancing, that is wetting the canal and getting water flowing.
With more water moving more often down the system conveyancing efficiency will improve and water losses will reduce.
Mr Blair said his state’s bulk water agency Water NSW and MIL had struggled to reach agreement.
“But I urged them to stay at table and nut it out. This shows if we focus on the outcome, and can be flexible, we can deliver savings and maintain productivity.
“I commend the MDBA, Water Minister David Littleproud, and Water NSW for getting the deal done,’ he said.
Mr Blair said the Mulwala canal was a significant upgrade to efficient water use.
“Imaging you have a publicly-owned one lane road takes which 40 minutes to get to the destination, going the long way around wasting time and energy,’ he said.
“We’ve cut a deal with a private road operator with a three lane highway, with lots of exits which gets there in half the time.”
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud had Commonwealth oversight of regulations and helped do the deal.
“The deal would unclog the system during times of heavy demand,” he said.
“Now downstream water users will get to them when they need it.”