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Key Water Blog

NIC newsletter 25th Feb 2020

CEO Comment 

NIC’s members gathered in Canberra last week where we covered a range of topics including hearing from AEMO about the transition underway in the electricity grid and the work being done to prepare the grid for greater distributed and renewable generation.  We had an update on the work of the Independent Socio Economic panel from chair, Robbie Sefton, and gained a better understanding of what the new National Water Grid authority will be doing.

Our working group with the Bureau of Meteorology also met.

The Bureau’s briefing included a run down of rainfall over the last few weeks, which included some welcome pictures of rain over parts of the country – though noting that many of the biggest falls were in coastal zones and did not add much to Murray Darling Basin storage.

The important message out of that is, even though we have had some rain we are a long way from out of drought, and able to see people getting allocations and income in the Murray Darling Basin.  I know everyone who reads this is very well aware of that, but you may feel the need to remind some people who don’t live in our regions over the next few months.

It was also interesting to hear from the National Water Grid Authority about the work they will be doing.  Members asked questions about how the authority fits in, what its role is, how it will help to promote the regional development benefits of irrigation in areas with potential for sustainable new development and what its role is in the Murray Darling Basin.

The Water Grid Authority sits with infrastructure in the Federal Departmental structure under Deputy Prime Minister McCormack, that gives an indication of its focus.  It is about coordinating Federal involvement in infrastructure projects ranging from new dams to efficiency measures (separate to Basin Plan programs).  It is good to see this focus in Government, it recognises that irrigation is critical for producing sustainable and reliable food and fibre for Australia, and that it plays an important role in regional development.

Recently NIC put in a submission to the latest inquiry into the Murray Darling Basin Plan being held by the Senate.  We are up to at least 43 inquiries now but as usual we continue to do our best to put a constructive position to decision makers.  This inquiry is the ‘Senate select committee on the multi-jurisdictional management and execution of the Murray Darling Basin Plan”, our submission is on our web site here.

Finally, it was good to see the new water minister familiarising himself with the Southern Basin last week.  A number of NIC members had the opportunity to meet the Minister but that was obviously limited by the time available, it is good that the Minister is taking the time to get to know issues across the whole basin. It is very complex, and it is important to take a view of the Basin as a whole and for the medium to longer term.

Best wishes
Steve Whan

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Northern Basin flows and embargoes

Flood plain harvesting in some Northern Rivers was embargoed for the first time ever in NSW a couple of weeks ago.  The embargo was put on to allow first flush flows to get down the river and it came on top of embargoes on pumping from rivers.

Unfortunately, as so often seems to be the case, news of the embargo and the cost to producers, who would otherwise have been legally able to put aside water to grow a much needed crop, was not positively acknowledged by media or even by some other farmers.

That ‘first’ went through to the keeper, instead the critics focused on expressing outrage when the embargo was lifted, and unfortunately that fuelled another bout of social media abuse.

Northern Basin irrigation farmers are no different to any other farmer in Australia, they are hard working people whose livelihoods and communities depend on having some water to grow an agricultural product.  They – like so many others across Australia – have been in drought for far too long, massive, worst on record, drought with no incomes and small-town businesses grinding to a halt.

It is upsetting to see the lack of regard to mental health demonstrated by some media, some politicians (who try to hide their nastiness by accusing everyone of being a ‘corporate’) and even more disappointingly by some other farmers

The Northern Basin irrigation farmers I speak to, absolutely understand and accept the need to ensure that water gets down the river for essential needs; they accept that we need to have first flush protections – but (just like their colleagues on the Murray) it hurts to see water flowing past.

This first FPH embargo did result in confusion.  It highlighted that there needs to be much more work to ensure the Government is clear and practical on what irrigators need to do (to comply) and to give some clarity around the outcomes that need to be achieved for the embargo to be lifted.

Let’s remember a river is not a pipeline, water is naturally lost along the way as it soaks into bone dry ground, replenishes water holes or is pumped or stored for stock and domestic use.  So I would accept it is not just a matter of how much rain has fallen, but similarly when it takes weeks for the water to work its way down the system it would not be fair to wait until a flow fills every water hole.

The great news is that the recent flows now look like making it, through an incredibly dry system, to Menindee.  We would all be hoping for much more rainfall to continue the improvement.

It is entirely reasonable for an irrigation farmer to point out that, after three years of not being able to grow a crop, they would like to be able to earn some income and inject some desperately needed money into their local communities.   Every ML of water used for irrigation produces a benefit for local communities, farmers pump millions into small town businesses when they can produce an income.  And when they can’t those businesses hurt too.  It’s the same whether it is Wee Waa or Deniliquin.

That makes any decision like this a balance, it wont always be precise but if it is built around clear guidelines then it should be able to avoid divisive surprises.


Click here for the full newsletter which includes information on Zero Net Emissions, Proposed amendments to ERF  Foresty regulations and more

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