There's disappointment and uncertainty for some of our farmers with news that there could be more government water buybacks to meet Murray Darling Basin Plan targets.
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Lachlan Valley Chair Tom Green said announcements made by Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek had the potential to lift the cost of living for everyone, and put some agricultural producers out of business.
Ms Plibersek announced an extension to the deadlines for the Murray Darling Basin Plan - and said the government would seek voluntary water purchases to get the additional 450 gigalitres for the environment identified under the plan.
That's bad news for agricultural producers - and the entire community, Mr Green said.
"Having less water to irrigate with means higher costs for agricultural producers, which will translate into increased prices on supermarket shelves," Mr Green said.
"Minister Plibersek's announcement on Tuesday to go beyond the buybacks required under with the Murray Darling Basin Plan won't just hurt rural communities and regional producers, but also her city constituents at the checkout - all of whom are already experiencing high costs of living."
Mr Green says producers are already doing it tough.
"With a looming El Nino predicted and the continued escalating costs of state and federal reforms, it just doesn't make sense to reduce the amount of water from the consumptive pool," he said.
"Increased water prices coupled with drought conditions provides the very real risk to put some producers out business.
"And we're talking about families here, multi-generational producers who've had a gut full."
Mr Green said the last IPART determination resulted in a 50 per cent increase in water charges, and smaller irrigators were already having to seriously weigh up the costs of investing in the metering systems required by legislation.
"A lot of the traditional crops from the valley - hay and so forth - are really getting to a point where it has to be weighed up if they're economically viable to run," he said. "Which has a flow on effect: if there's less hay produced well it makes it more expensive and harder to access for stock producers."
Our local agricultural and irrigation industry is trying to recover and rebuild after the floods of 2022, and those floods came on the back of flooding in 2021, drought in 2018 and 2019, and flood in 2016, Lachlan Valley Water's Tom Green adds.
He's pictured above at just one of the irrigation channels being rebuilt on his property.
Mr Green said the Lachlan Valley hadn't even been considered part of the scheme to deliver more water into South Australia in terms of infrastructure, but it seemed buybacks could come from this region.
"The issue for the Lachlan, one of the reasons we're concerned around it - is we are still some of, comparative to other valleys, the cheapest water in the state," Mr Green said.
"Even at a premium buying it back we could get targeted heavily."
He believes the original intent of the plan - to reduce consumptive water to a sustainable limit - has been achieved.
What he'd prefer to see is infrastructure investment to deliver outcomes that are more than a numerical target.
Installing more fish ladders and fish screens on pumps are two of the actions he'd like to see funded by governments.
In terms of efficiency measures, he believes farmers are doing what they can on-farm: it just makes business sense.
"If you want to actually get outcomes just adding more water's not going to achieve it, it's that on-ground investment: habitat, fish passage, things like that - and it's the hard part," Mr Green said.
The NSW Irrigators' Council also strongly condemned the Federal Government's plan for additional water buybacks and removal of the cap on water recovery to go beyond the Murray Darling Basin Plan requirements, saying the announcement has sent shockwaves through Basin communities.
"Basin communities have already lost one in three litres of irrigation water to get the Basin Plan Sustainable Diversion Limits in place, and the uncertainty of more, beyond what was required to reach the Sustainable Diversion Limits, is a major cause for concern," Acting CEO Christine Freak said.
"To put this in perspective, buying back the NSW share of an additional 450GL of water will remove the equivalent of nearly half of the remaining high-security water that's left for farming in the NSW Southern Basin.
"This is very concerning, given the severe socio-economic and water market impacts, and implications for Australia's food bowl."
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