‘Upwater’ failure

March 18, 2017

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s provisions for ‘socio-economic neutrality’ are inconsistent with Commonwealth guidelines and accepted definitions, according to a new report.

The Aither report, designed specifically to look at the socio-economic neutrality in implementing the plan, was released by NSW Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair on Tuesday.

The Basin Plan provides an additional 450 gigalitres of upwater to be recovered, on top of the 2,750GL target, through on-farm and other water efficiency projects that are to be socially and economically neutral or beneficial.

But the Aither report says the Basin Plan provisions do not account for impacts on people who are not directly participating in the program, impacts that are a result of the cumulative or aggregate implementation of entire programs or the distribution of impacts across stakeholders.

‘‘The current provision in the Basin Plan, that voluntary individual participation equals neutrality, does not meet the overarching intent of the Basin Plan to consider the socio-economic impacts of ‘upwater’ programs,’’ it reads.

‘‘In principle, there is potential for adverse socio-economic impacts associated with ‘upwater’ due to flow-on effects associated with cumulative changes in water demand and use.’’

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Graeme Pyle said the report’s findings are vindication of what local irrigator and community groups have been saying for many years.

‘‘SRI applauds the diligence of Aither in putting this breathtaking report together,’’ he said.

‘‘It roundly condemns the approach of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and South Australia to continue to mask the demise that could be caused by the 450 gigalitres.’’

Aither recommends the NSW Government advocate for an independent Cost:Benefit Analysis of the efficiency measures program.

Further, it says if the overall program does not pass this ‘‘more easily implemented test, then it should not be considered socio-economically neutral at an aggregate level’’.

The government is also encouraged to push for a revised Basin-wide definition and cooperative approach to assessing socio-economic neutrality, which would include quantitative analysis of pilot programs and past on-farm programs.

Mr Blair took the recommendations and findings to a Ministerial Council meeting in Mildura yesterday.

It was continuing as the Pastoral Times went to print.

In releasing the plan earlier in the week, however, he said there is an evident need for greater understanding of the ‘upwater’ program and its potential to cause economic decline in regional NSW.

‘‘For some time now New South Wales business owners and community leaders have expressed concern around the Basin Plan’s upwater program, primarily because current agreements do not consider social and economic impacts beyond the farm-gate,’’ Mr Blair said.

‘‘In New South Wales we are committed to implementing the Basin Plan in a way that puts communities first — and to achieve this all states must be open to having an honest conversation about the upwater program, which is why we have commissioned this independent report.

‘‘To be confident the Basin Plan’s upwater program is not going to set regional NSW further back, we need to consider outcomes of the program not only for the individual participant but the broader community.

‘‘For example, we need a better understanding of what these efficiency measures mean for our irrigation sector, particularly the irrigation corporations, and total employment and economic activity in the local town.

‘‘With the cost of running water delivery networks largely fixed, we have seen how detrimental water recovered through buybacks has been to some of these irrigation corporations.’’

The report is available at

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