This week’s ABC Four Corners program demonstrated a clear misunderstanding of water infrastructure programs under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. In every valley in the basin, there is a set limit on the amount of water that can be used (extracted) for farming. If the amount of water used on one farm increases from the purchase of water, the amount used on another farm must decrease from the sale of water.
The cap on the amount of water used by farmers has been in place for over 20 years. The fundamental purpose of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is to further reduce this cap to a more sustainable level – known as the sustainable diversion limit.
Infrastructure programs, as well as buybacks, are the key mechanisms by which the government purchases water rights from irrigation farmers for the environment. The difference between infrastructure programs and buy backs programs is that the money paid to the irrigation farmer for the water right must be invested in improving the water use efficiency of the irrigation farmers’ property.
To date, efficiency programs have returned over 640 billion litres of water to the environment, and at the same time resulted in irrigation farmers improving their water use efficiency. In the case of the Murrumbidgee, 262 billion litres of water is returned to the environment each year, while also maintaining the immense socioeconomic value of the sector in this region.
In comparison to direct buy-backs, infrastructure projects achieve environmental outcomes while facilitating the transition of communities and the irrigation industry to food and fibre production with less water.
We cannot forget that this Four Corners program comes amid a devastating drought, where most irrigation farmers in NSW simply do not have access to any water at all (0 per cent general-security water allocation).
NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO