Natural floods are ‘flows’
Natural flood waters should replace environmental flows in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan when severe flooding occurs.
That was one of the messages Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce left with irrigation industry representatives when in Deniliquin last Wednesday night.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s fly-in visit, where he was accompanied by Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley and his senior water advisor, included a brief tour of flood affected areas on the Lower Tocumwal Rd just outside Deniliquin where landholders are facing the rising Tuppal and Bullatale creeks as a result of huge inflows into the Murray River.
This was followed by an informal ‘shed meeting’ at Bill Holden’s Deniliquin property, where Mr Joyce heard ‘on-the-ground’ issues from those affected.
During the tour, Bullatale Creek property owners Andrew and Louise Burge and Murray Valley Private Diverters chair John Lolicato each stressed to Mr Joyce that flooding was only going to worsen in coming weeks.
They also highlighted the natural inundation he was seeing was replicating the exact models of environmental water delivery being proposed in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
‘‘These flows have an environmental outcome, but it’s not booked in (as environmental flows),’’ Mr Joyce acknowledged.
‘‘It is hydrologically impossible to move all this water down the system, and I have raised that at least four times with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
‘‘And it’s not just in this section of the plan we need changed.
‘‘Without changes we will see our towns go broke, and I don’t want that to happen.
‘‘You would understand the issues better than me because it’s your lives — I am here to learn from you.
‘‘You have a vastly greater knowledge, and I know some of the assumptions (in the Basin Plan) are wrong.’’
At the subsequent meeting, Mr Joyce was quizzed over the approach to unused environmental water.
With most of Australia now in flood, environmental allocations take up ‘air space’ in dams, Mr Joyce was told. Many irrigators believe that this restricts irrigation water allocation increases.
‘‘I just don’t get it,’’ Deniliquin landholder Russell Tait said.
‘‘Dartmouth is at 65 per cent and the Hume has been spilling for at least three weeks. Each day there is 115,000 megalitres coming through Albury, 115,000ML out of Yarrawonga and more still out of the Ovens (River) at Peechelba. But we’re still on an allocation of 53 per cent – how does that work?
‘‘There is no need for environmental water but they (the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder) still get to retain their water in the dam for next year. That needs to change.’’
While labelling the situation ‘‘ridiculous’’, Ms Ley said the Federal Government cannot dictate to the state government what it can allocate to irrigators.
Mr Joyce said the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder needs to provide a comprehensive watering plan, including what areas will be watered and at what times.
‘‘If they can’t do that, we need to ask if that water should be tradeable,’’ he said.
‘‘It goes to the ethicacy of the flood — the environmental outcomes have been achieved, so what do we do with the rest of the water?
‘‘That is the basic idea — can we get a better return from this asset?’’
Mrs Burge flagged that if water is to be traded, it needs to be done fairly.
‘‘We need to track that. If traded, the water needs to go back into the area it was taken from,’’ she said.
Murray Irrigation Limited chief executive officer Michael Renehan, Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce, Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley, Murray Valley Private Diverters chair John Lolicato and Bullatale Creek...