Drought is a testing time for the environment – just as it is for farmers and regional communities.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s role is to share water fairly so farmers, communities and the environment can better manage the inevitable challenges Australia’s variable climate throws at them.
It means that water for the environment is now held outside the pool of water available to irrigation farmers through the water market.
Water is an owned commodity – just like land.
There is a widespread assumption that water flowing in the rivers,
or stored in the dams, is for the environment. In fact, most of the available water stored in dams right now is owned by irrigators. Environmental water entitlements account for about 8 per cent of water in NSW Murray-Darling Basin storages and about 13 per cent in Victoria.
Right now, there is no shortage of water for sale. The water market gives farmers and governments the same access to water at market prices.
Farmers can and should make decisions about whether to buy or sell water on the temporary market, or whether to hold on to some of their water allocation for the next year.
This is an important risk management tool for many Australian farmers who plan for wet and dry scenarios, just as environmental water holders do.
The Millennium drought was the stimulus for the basin plan’s development. It prioritises water for critical human needs over other water uses and there are agreed triggers to share water under very dry scenarios. Through basin plan funding, irrigators have improved the water efficiency of their irrigation systems.
Drought is the time to truly test the basin plan and its value is clearer now than ever. It’s not about supporting the environment or farmers but a case of balancing the long-term needs of both.
The hot days of summer that will really test us are still a few months away. No one can afford to cast the plan aside now.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s job is to make sure the basin’s many different values are protected for all Australians. That includes thriving agriculture, a resilient environment and strong communities.
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