Irrigators gathered at the Southside Leagues Club to hear about the next stage of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, but few took comfort from the meeting.
Two representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the water division’s first assistant secretary Paul Morris and assistant secretary for the water recovery branch Mary Colreavy, fronted the meeting on Thursday last week.
The meeting follows an agreement between NSW and Victoria on proposed socio-economic criteria for the further 450 gigalitres of ‘upwater’.
Mr Morris said it wasn’t about recovering water for the sake of recovery, but ensuring the Basin’s health.
“There’s no intention to purchase water as part of the 450 gigalitres,” Mr Morris said.
He said the plan was to recover the 450 gigalitres through improved infrastructure and monitor socio-economic impacts over six years according to the existing criteria.
Riverina Wine Grapes Marketing Board CEO Brian Simpson said the meeting was a good opportunity, particularly with on-farm projects being considered.
Mr Simpson, who is also a Griffith City Councillor, said he was interested in how the proposed criteria would operate.
“We’ve come such a long way now, but I believe the 2700 gigalitres should be sufficient if managed properly,” Mr Simpson said.
“All areas have to be efficient the value of water is too high for farmers, or anyone else to waste it.”
Griffith Business Chamber vice-president Paul Pierotti said they were few answers to questions from irrigators.
“What percentage of the 2700 gigalitres is destined for the lower lakes?” Mr Pierotti asked.
He said the government had to be transparent about the use of water, especially with the majority of water recovered for the environment coming from the southern part of the basin.
“I don’t believe anyone in that room … believes that there is more water that can be recovered which will lead to better production and economies,” Mr Pierotti said.
Mr Pierotti said there was little point in considering and discussing projects which were likely to have a negative impact, when even existing criteria requires either a neutral or positive socio-economic impact on the affected communities.
“It’s time to get compensation for the socio-economic damage of the 2700 gigalitres,” he said.
Murrumbidgee Council mayor Ruth McRae remained concerned at the prospect of sustainable diversion limit (SDL) adjustment projects going ahead for the Yanco Creek.
“I don't think the powers that be have any understand of how disastoirus the socio-economic and environmental impacts will be if this proposed SDL project proceeds,” Councillor McRae said.
Cr McRae was concerned there was no set timeline or list of prioritised projects given during the meeting.
Last month, federal agriculture minister David Littleproud extended the consultation time on the socio-economic criteria used for projects in the Murray Darling Basin.