Basin con­cern

Calls for in­ves­ti­ga­tion fol­low­ing re­port’s claim of il­le­gal wa­ter use

Southern Riverina news - - FRONT PAGE -

Al­le­ga­tions of ir­reg­u­lar wa­ter ex­trac­tion aired by the ABC’s Four Cor­ners pro­gram this week are ‘‘dis­ap­point­ing and dis­turb­ing’’, ac­cord­ing to Murray Ir­ri­ga­tion Lim­ited act­ing chair Ben Bar­low.

The spe­cial re­port by Lin­ton Besser aired on Mon­day night al­leges wa­ter is dis­ap­pear­ing from the river sys­tems de­spite the aim of the Murray-Dar­ling Basin Plan in restor­ing and pro­tect­ing the river and its en­vi­ron­ments.

The pro­gram sug­gested there had been il­le­gal use of wa­ter and me­ter tam­per­ing, and in­cluded record­ings of ‘‘back room dis­cus­sions be­tween bu­reau­crats and pow­er­ful ir­ri­ga­tors the plan was meant to man­age’’.

One per­son pro­vid­ing com­ment to the pro­gram even al­leged that en­vi­ron­men­tal wa­ter was be­ing pumped into stor­ages with the pur­pose of grow­ing cot­ton.

While the re­port con­cen­trated on the north­ern part of the Murray-Dar­ling Basin, lo­cal ir­ri­ga­tion stake­hold­ers have said it raises se­ri­ous con­cerns for the en­tire basin.

‘‘Murray Ir­ri­ga­tion ex­pects the full suite of fed­eral and state in­ves­tiga­tive re­sources to pur­sue ev­ery al­le­ga­tion and ac­cu­sa­tion with vigour and it needs to hap­pen very quickly if the Basin Plan is to re­main in­tact,’’ Mr Bar­low said.

‘‘If sub­stan­ti­ated, the al­le­ga­tions con­sti­tute a se­ri­ous be­trayal of ev­ery sec­tor seek­ing to cre­ate a bet­ter Murray.

‘‘We can­not af­ford any re­la­tion­ship that favours any group over an­other and which seeks to cir­cum­vent ei­ther the Basin Plan or any el­e­ment of the Wa­ter Act.’’

Mr Bar­low said Murray Ir­ri­ga­tion’s Pri­vate Ir­ri­ga­tion In­fra­struc­ture Op­er­a­tors Pro­gram Round 2 $206 mil­lion in­fra­struc­ture up­grades and its closed sys­tem pro­vide its land­hold­ers and Basin Plan stake­hold­ers with a high level of in­tegrity that would be en­vied by many who ap­pear af­fected by the up­stream al­le­ga­tions.

“While it is pru­dent for the com­pany to pro­vide in­ves­ti­ga­tors and au­thor­i­ties with the clear air to go about their busi­ness we strongly en­cour­age close scru­tiny of any in­ves­ti­ga­tions by the NSW and Na­tional Ir­ri­ga­tors Coun­cil,’’ Mr Bar­low said.

South­ern Rive­rina Ir­ri­ga­tors chair Graeme Pyle said his mem­bers were call­ing for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to come in the form of a Royal Com­mis­sion.

He said it’s a request he will push, say­ing any­thing less may not get to the root of the prob­lem.

‘‘The gen­eral thrust from our re­gional ar­eas is that a Royal Com­mis­sion is re­quired to in­ves­ti­gate the ar­ray of prob­lems high­lighted by this pro­gram, as well as the facets and as­sump­tions of the plan it­self.

‘‘We need to en­sure the en­vi­ron­ment and the pro­duc­tive sec­tors are be­ing looked af­ter in equal mea­sure, and at the mo­ment the fo­cus is just on the en­vi­ron­ment.

‘‘The al­le­ga­tions on Mon­day night’s pro­gram that wa­ter is be­ing pil­fered from the Dar­ling River means our (Murray Val­ley) al­lo­ca­tions are af­fected, as wa­ter that ends up in Menindee is con­sid­ered in our al­lo­ca­tions. This sug­gests ir­ri­ga­tors are tak­ing wa­ter from other ir­ri­ga­tors.’’

NSW Min­is­ter for Pri­mary In­dus­tries and Re­gional Wa­ter Niall Blair re­sponded to Mon­day’s pro­gram yes­ter­day by con­firm­ing he would launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It has in­cluded di­rect­ing the NSW De­part­ment of In­dus­try sec­re­tary to pro­vide ‘‘an ur­gent overview of all the com­pli­ance mat­ters raised in the pro­gram’’.

‘‘We ac­knowl­edge the im­por­tance of ev­ery drop of wa­ter in the basin, but the fate of the Murray-Dar­ling Basin Plan won’t hinge on ir­ri­ga­tors in the Bar­won-Dar­ling,’’ Mr Blair said.

‘‘This gov­ern­ment is de­ter­mined to ad­dress the eco­nomic, en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cio-eco­nomic con­cerns around the river sys­tem, with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties front and cen­tre in this bal­anc­ing act.’’

The ABC’s Four Cor­ners pro­gram men­tioned can be viewed at www.abc.net.au/ 4cor­ners/sto­ries/2017/07/24/4705065.htm.

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