Local councils must have a greater role in implementing the Murray Darling Basin Plan according to Murray Darling Association Region 2 Chair Peter Mansfield.
The Moira Shire Councillor said the MDA is made up of more than 160 councils within the basin who have a better understanding of their communities and how the plan affects them.
Mr Mansfield said the basin plan to have government’s decide on a further 450gigalitres (Gl) of up river savings will only be removed from productive use (irrigation) if it can be proven there is no social or economic negative impact.
He said it will also be a very complex issue in that any water recovered would be difficult to transfer because of the Barmah Choke.
“It’s difficult to manage the transfer of water as the Barmah Choke only allows 10,000 megalitres to pass through per day without flooding the Barmah Forest. It’s very difficult to justify these up river transfers.”
Mr Mansfield said water saving and transfers from this area have already been around 20 per cent.
“We have already done much of the heavy lifting in terms of transferring productive water from this area,” he said.
“Much of this has come from farmers selling their water rights and taking up alternative farming methods.”
Mr Mansfield said although the extra environmental flows have seen an improvement in the river, particularly downstream of the Yarrawonga Weir there has been considerable economic and social negative flow-on affects in areas such as local dairy industry.
A Frontier Economics report released earlier this year, found that Victorian irrigators who sold water entitlements to the Commonwealth are now more reliant on allocation purchases than they would be without the plan.
The report found that water has become “more scarce” as a result of horticultural expansion and the basin plan.
“This has left Victoria’s irrigated dairy industry particularly exposed.’’
“It has also left Victorian horticuluralists exposed to the risk of low allocations.’’
The Murray Darling Basin plan is seeking to find 2750 Gl of water for the environment.
Irrigators and farm groups have been warning that any move to take more water away from productive agriculture will damage regional communities.
The states and the Commonwealth are still looking at whether a further 450 Gl (called up-water), could be removed from the system to benefit river flows.
Independent reports have identified that the dairy industry is most vulnerable to the removal of water from agriculture, and in a drought horticulture could also be seriously affected.
A report by consultants, RMCG has found that dairy production already lost $200m a year, mixed farming already lost $25m a year and 1000 jobs had already been lost.
Farmers are paying about $20 million a year more for temporary water.
The Murray Darling Basin Authority is now finalising a list of major infrastructure projects designed to deliver environmental water more effectively and efficiently in the southern end of the basin.
If those are adopted, and the states can prove that they can achieve the same environmental impact by delivering less water more efficiently, the ‘adjustment mechanism’ can be used to reduce the amount of water it acquires by up to 650 gigalitres.