By Sussan Ley, Federal Member for Farrer and Federal Environment Minister.
The beginning of spring has been an anxious but busy period for many across the irrigated farming areas of the Farrer electorate and I sincerely thank those whom I met with over the last fortnight.
From Wentworth to Griffith to Hay, Logie Brae, Deniliquin and Mathoura — thank you for your input, for sharing your experiences and for your willingness to talk about the challenges that confront you at this time of drought and low water allocations.
The conditions are extremely tough right across NSW and I am committed to working with states, authorities and agencies to do what I can to help.
While a lot of anger at the current situation is directed against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, it’s important to remember the current low, or no allocations, would still be the same even if we did not have a plan, because they result from the Murray-Darling Agreement and state water allocation policy.
And while the sight of a flowing Murray River right past our doorstep is infuriating, the reality is, that water is owned on Victorian licences (due to reasonable inflow from their tributaries) and we can’t turn it into an allocation in NSW.
Every drop of water in the basin is owned somewhere, and for our allocation to go up someone else’s has to go down. People usually point to two places: the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and South Australia.
The CEWH does hold water licences in the NSW Murray but, due to most of those being on zero allocation, only has 22 Gl in the Murray Valley.
Putting this water on the market would be of limited use.
Regarding South Australia, you might believe they should have less water, but given their entitlement under the MDA has stayed exactly the same since 1972, that agreement would have to be renegotiated between the states.
In saying that, due to the low inflows leading to special accounting, SA’s entitlement has been reduced this year by almost 800 Gl.
I appreciated Water Minister David Littleproud’s visit through our part of the basin to see and hear from our people and to look at the southern connected system.
Likewise it’s good to be working with Senator Perin Davey, who is a much-valued voice from our region in the Federal Parliament.
Notwithstanding this, there are changes (works and measures at the end of the system) that can be progressed with South Australia so we can get the same benefits with less flow (eg south-east drainage, management options for the Lower Lakes and Coorong and use of the desalination plant).
I want to focus, not on the things we can’t change, but on the things we can.
Already under way is the socio-economic assessment, being chaired by Robbie Sefton and due to make an interim report before the end of the year.
This will give us the independent evidence we need to argue for changes to the rules inside the plan (including rules around environmental water).
Remember these rules can only be changed with agreement of all basin states.
I met with Murray Irrigation Ltd in Deniliquin last week and am committed to supporting any initiatives that would derive the best possible value from using MIL infrastructure to efficiently deliver water elsewhere, while giving a dividend to us as increased allocation.
This includes maximising operational and environmental water use through this system in a way that reduces conveyance water.
The ACCC review into water trading is under way and has the potential to limit inter-valley trade and take pressure off the high price of temporary water.
I want to make sure that this review receives direct input from those who have been affected by sudden changes in water price or availability.
As a member of the executive of a government administering the 2007 Water Act, I regret that I am unable to meet with the proponents of the lawsuit which is being brought against the Murray-Darling Basin Authority until after that action has concluded.
I will be out and about in between the next month of parliamentary sittings.
I have a range of farm visits planned and invite you to register your interest with my office if you would like to be part of these.
I feel your frustration as another knife edge season approaches and I do want to assure you, as this session of parliament gets under way, I will once again be advocating for our water issues, with colleagues and federal agencies, to both deliver water and deliver a balanced plan.