For the first time in living memory, community leaders across the drought-ravaged Murray and southern Riverina region have united to develop a position on water, intended to show government a way to provide future water security for the region.
Riverina and Murray Joint Organisation (RAMJO) Chair Cr Kevin Mack said leaders in the region had long been concerned about the increasingly complex water debate over the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
“We have seen first-hand how confused and frustrated people are by what has been happening – or not happening – to address water issues across the Murray Darling basin. So our communities have come together with a single voice to put sensible options on the table and offer a way forward to balance environmental, social and agricultural needs.”
RAMJO, a co-operation of 11 member Local Government Councils in southern NSW, convened a Water Security Sub-Committee of Mayors, General Managers and expert council staff from across the region, who worked together for a year to develop a series of solutions. The resulting ‘Water Position Paper’ outlines options to ease some of the crippling water situations in the region, as well as lay a foundation for a future built on innovation and adaptation.
Water Security Sub-Committee Chair Cr Chris Bilkey said together the committee has attempted to take a whole-of-basin approach to the environment, economy and community, rather than a parochial regional approach.
“We acknowledge that the range of solutions presented in this paper will not completely solve the serious issues damaging the ecology and our communities,” he said. “Both the short-term and longer-term options require the meaningful sustained support of Federal and State governments for the greater good of the river system and the people who rely on it.”
Cr Bilkey said the RAMJO Water Position Paper was a historic document that deserved widespread attention by all levels of Government.
“This is the first time a major portion of the Local Government entities in the Basin has come together – including some differing sides of the water debate – to propose practical solutions. Individually, people and groups had their own concerns and have been fighting for years to be heard,” he said.
“They have now put aside differences and focussed on the similarities for the good of the region, and its river system. We stand together for the future of this region, and we welcome the chance to present our options for solutions to the big issues facing our communities and their natural lifeline, the Murray Darling river system.”
Federation Council Mayor Cr Patrick Bourke said the council was supportive of the Water Position Paper.
“We believe this is a step in the right direction to focus attention on the issue of water management in this region, and how all levels of government can work together with communities to find solutions.”
At Federation Council’s monthly meeting on June 23, Cr Bronwyn Thomas received unanimous support with her Notice Motion:
• the Murray Darling Association not support the proposed buyback of 450 gl of water entitlements from the Murray Darling Basin.
• the passage of water intended for irrigation use downstream be minimised to flows that do not cause environmental harm to river environs and in particular, the Barmah Choke on the Murray River and the banks of the heritage listed Goulburn River downstream of Eildon Weir.
• If on farm efficiency programs are to be used to obtain the proposed 450gl buyback, if it goes ahead, then they should be subject to an independent socioeconomic analysis that proves that such transfers do not cause negative socio-economic issues in regions where water is being recovered.
“Council is active in both the Murray Darling Association (MDA) and RAMJO in the water space, and the motion above is considered to be consistent with council’s strategic direction also,” Cr Thomas said.