Report calls for investment in rural communities

By Geoff Adams

A new report to the Federal Government has urged more investment in struggling rural towns and less haste in water recovery for the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The long-awaited Sefton report, given to the government in April, calls for significant and sustained investment by governments.

“We highlight a compelling and urgent case for investment in rural and regional communities now — working towards rebuilding resilience and more diverse economies,” the report said.

“At the same time, we urge a slowing of the pace of planned water recovery expenditure.

“This dual approach gives communities both the space and opportunity to address pressing instances of distress, to find and embed positive strategies for economic development, and to take stock of the ecological responses given their lags and the impact of drought in many parts of the Basin.”

The report found underlying commodity trends, irrigation development, and technology change have foundationally reshaped where and how the consumptive pool is used and where it will be used in the future.

“Water use will continue to shift between regions and locations, even with no further
changes in land use or expansion of horticulture plantings,” it said.

“Almond water use, for example, could increase in the future by around 180 GL even without further expansion of plantations as existing developments mature, and this would result in an equivalent fall in water use across all other sectors as a result — with most of this occurring in rice and dairy.”

The Sefton consultants visited Wakool on October 2, Shepparton and Finley on October 3 and Barooga and Cohuna on October 4 last year.

The panel preparing the report was chaired by Robbie Sefton and panel members included David McKenzie from Shepparton and Bruce Simpson from Deniliquin.

Find the report here: www.basin-socio-economic.com.au

Panel Recommendations:

1. Governments must better engage with basin communities.

2. Transparency and accountability for basin communities.

3. Water recovery will have significant negative impacts on northern Victorian communities.

4.Off-farm water recovery preferred to reduce the impact on the consumptive pool.

5. If existing Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) do not deliver the 605 Gl required, other projects should be considered.

6. MDBA should determine the impact of local complementary measures working towards basin plan objectives.

7. Governments should invest in complementary measures to deliver outcomes in No 6.

8. MDBA to continuously evaluate the basin plan, including social and economic indicators.

9.Increase the scale of the Murray Darling Basin Economic Development Program.

10. Australian government should increase funding for Economic Development program, round two.

11. Where up-water recovery fails to meet neutrality criteria local communities be consulted on how third party impacts could be offset.

12. Establish a multi-state approach to development below the Barmah Choke.

13. Improve the water security for basin tows and cities.

14. Consider extending the National Water Grid Authority's remit to include securing tow and regional centre water supply.

15. Increase First Nations peoples’ access to water for economic and social purposes.

16. Governments to fund First Nations groups to work with experts in valuing eco-systems services.

17. First Nations participation to be embedded in water policy and strategy.

18. Increased funding for research in diversifying farm systems.

19. Monitoring how improved environmental outcomes affect tourism, recreation, liveability, health and wellbeing.

20. Irrigators to be provided with more information on impact of infrastructure changes in water recovery.

21. Better supporting rural communities facing acute social and economic issues.

22. Governments and agencies to develop plans to address social and economic issues over the next three years.