NSW Irrigators Council Monthly Newsletter
April 2023
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Pump site on the Hunter River at Jerry Plains, April 2023. Photo: HVWUA
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Newsletter – April 2023
Buybacks to make up a possible shortfall of up to 740 GL to meet the Basin Plan's 605 GL and 450 GL Sustainable Diversion Limits Adjustment Mechanisms (SDLAM) is not the silver bullet too many believe.

Some groups welcomed the Victorian Government halting work this month on SDLAM 605 GL projects, saying these projects to deliver water into environmentally valuable sites are a poor substitute for buying back more water they believe can be used to reinstate a more 'natural' regime with more frequent overbank flooding.

The problem is, the southern Basin in particular is now a highly modified landscape with highly regulated rivers running through it. Regulation reduces the frequency and scale of small-medium overbank floods; the big floods, as we have seen in the last 12 months, happen regardless.

But buying back more water from farmers won't enable more frequent, unconstrained small-medium overbank floods across the floodplains, because there are now more than 6000 landowners with private properties in the way. The Productivity Commission in 2018 warned more water recovered would likely be unused unless this constraint was addressed.

Voluntary flood easements need to be negotiated; this will take time. Until then, the SDLAM 605 projects are vital to delivering the environmental water we already to floodplain sites that otherwise miss out in all but the big flood years.

And that's before we even begin talking about the socioeconomic impacts. In our latest report detailed below, we collated data in the MDBA's 40 southern Basin community profiles for the first time, revealing that 30% of a net 10,801.5 FTE jobs lost between 2001 and 2016 were attributed to water recovery for the environment (about 2000 GL under the Basin Plan and 875 GL in pre-Plan programs).

Then there's degradation drivers such as carp and other invasive land and aquatic species, cold water pollution, poor fish passage and erosion. Buying back even more water from farmers just won't fix this. It's the Government's call, but more buybacks aren't looking like the best solution for the environment or Basin communities. 

Claire Miller,
Top Five Policy Matters for April
  1. Minns Government Cabinet
  2. Murray-Darling Basin Plan
  3. Town water supplies
  4. Billabong Project update
  5. NSWIC out and about in NSW
Minns Government Cabinet
This month it was confirmed that the Hon. Rose Jackson is the new state Minister for Water, and for the North Coast. We have built a strong working relationship with Rose from her time as Shadow Minister, which we look forward to continuing. We have sent Rose a brief of the immediate priorities for the industry, and will be meeting with her next week. 
Other ministers relevant to water management were also confirmed this month:
  • Penny Sharpe - Minister for Climate Change and Environment
  • Tara Moriarty - Minister for Agriculture, Regional and Western NSW
  • Ryan Park - Minister for the South Coast
  • David Harris - Minister the Central Coast
  • Timothy Crakanthorp - Minister for the Hunter
The full Ministry is available here.
Murray-Darling Basin Plan
There has been so much talk about all options being on the table to fix the Basin Plan, but, where are the options?

We have had several meetings with the federal Department and Minister Plibersek's Office, on new and better pathways to finish the Basin Plan (without further hardship on communities). Whilst they definitely seem open to options other than direct and indirect buybacks, progress is rather slow going. 

The tendency is towards putting off some of the important 'options' to 'Basin Plan 2.0' - to which we say, why are we talking about Basin Plan 2.0 when we have the train-wreck of Basin Plan 1.0 about to hit in mid-2024, unless something changes to broaden the current, narrow trajectory? 

So, what are we doing?

Well, in addition to a package of 'Options to Fix the Basin Plan' which we have put forward to agencies, we are also producing many reports to demonstrate the harm that the current trajectory toward more buybacks will cause to Basin communities. You can see these on our website (and information about our latest jobs report is below), and there's more in the pipeline - stay tuned! 

Further, we have urged the DCCEEW to go and talk to communities, and properly listen to their ideas on non-buyback options. But genuine consultation takes time, and we are running out of that. The Department also needs to demonstrate it will listen and act on the feedback, and recommend flexibility in current timeframes to the next Basin ministerial council, so that any community recommendations can actually be delivered.
Murray-Darling Basin Plan buybacks' job impact report
NSWIC's Job impacts from water recovery for the environment in the Southern Murray-Darling Basin Report has now been published [HERE]

Water recovery for the environment was blamed for 3261 FTE job losses across the economies of 40 southern Basin communities, according to Murray-Darling Basin Authority modelling. This is 30% of the net 10,801.5 FTE jobs lost from 2001 to 2016, directly attributed to direct and indirect buybacks.

The NSWIC report also points to a 2012 survey commissioned by the Federal Government that found 60% of sellers in 2008-2012 sold water entitlement under duress to generate cashflow, mostly to reduce debt or increase farm viability.

“The MDBA’s own socioeconomic modelling shows less water for farmers means fewer jobs in regional economies,” said our media release. “Many jobs lost due to water recovery were in small communities where every job matters to keep people in town, and keep schools, shops, the pub and sports clubs open.

“It is disappointing that the MDBA never collated its own data – without this kind of analysis, the Federal Government may unwittingly recover more water out of communities already hit the hardest by water recovery in the past.

“If governments are not careful, we’ll end up with ghost towns, and only escalate the serious social issues facing many of these communities. There are other ways, beyond more buybacks, to continue to improve the health of the Basin’s rivers, wetlands and floodplains."
Town water supplies
This month, the 7.30 Report (HERE) ran a story on Walgett's town water supply.

The community called for an Independent Taskforce to investigate and tackle water insecurity in regional NSW. About time, we say.

Namoi River at Walgett, 2022. Photo: NSWIC

We published a media release [HERE], saying: “For too long, the focus has been on fighting over agricultural water use while tangible solutions to secure town water, such as secondary sources and upgrading outdated infrastructure, have been left high and dry.

“Concern over drinking water quality in Walgett and other remote towns is the legacy of water policy focusing on single populist solution – reducing irrigation – and ignoring the investment needed to secure secondary water sources and improve town water infrastructure.

"A report by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) said: “WSAA estimates that at least $2.2 billion is required to ensure First Nations remote communities across the country receive drinking water meeting the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.”

“This is less than 20% of what has been spent on the Basin Plan. It’s long past time we put more money into where the problem is.” 

The social media reception was positive, with many seeming surprised irrigators were advocating for water security in their own local towns, such as Walgett.
NSWIC out and about in NSW
This month, we attended Lachlan Valley Water's committee meeting in Condobolin. It was a great opportunity learn about local issues like the upcoming floodplain management plan; a review of cost sharing between fixed and variable charges; the risk of SDLAM shortfalls being sourced from the Lachlan despite being unconnected; and, WaterNSW's plan to pull staff west of the divide back to the coast.
Additionally, our Policy Officer spent three days meeting irrigators around the Greater Hunter area with the Hunter Valley Water Users Association (HVWUA). 

Meetings were held on vineyards, hay farms, dairies, chicken broilers and horse studs. These farm visits provided an opportunity for water users to share their concerns on issues like river bank erosion, water price increases, and the non-urban metering reform. It was also a great time to spread knowledge about the work of HVWUA and NSWIC, and to promote the new HVWUA website [HERE].  
General News
Consultation on improved First Nations water holdings
The Commonwealth has announced its intention to scope a national water holdings arrangement for the benefit of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Read the Minister’s media release [HERE].
Feedback for Off-farm Efficiency Program
The NSW government is seeking community feedback on the expected socio-economic outcomes of two funding proposals under the Off-farm Efficiency Program made by Murrumbidgee Irrigation and Griffith Golf Club.

The Griffith Golf Club's $1.4 million water saving project proposes to return 64 ML of water entitlements to the environment.  Murrumbidgee Irrigation's $62 million project proposes to return 2407 ML of water entitlements to the environment. Submissions close on 5 May; more information is available [HERE].
Non-Urban Metering Reform info sessions for southern inland
9-23 May: Non-Urban Metering information sessions for southern inland
Information sessions are being held online and in:
  • Cowra
  • Condobolin
  • Wagga Wagga
  • Yanco
  • Deniliquin
  • Mildura
Face-to-face sessions include a formal presentation from 10am–noon, followed by lunch and a drop-in session from noon – 2pm. Everyone is welcome to attend either or both sessions. Find out more and register [HERE]
SDL Accounting Improvement Strategy
This month, the MDBA published a SDL Accounting Improvement Strategy 2023.

In 2019, an Independent Panel was commissioned to review the MDBA's SDL accounting framework against the OECD’s Health Check for Water Resources Allocation Criteria. The panel found the framework to be conceptually sound and made recommendations to improve it, leading to the SDL accounting framework improvement strategy 2020-2025.

This Report
This latest report - the Improvement Strategy 2023 - follows the 2020 strategy. It details the progress so far on implementation, the legislative changes impacting the delivery, and the re-prioritisation of activities in the 2020-2025 strategy.

At the end of tranche 1 (2020-2021), an evaluation of the 11 scheduled activities determined eight were on track and three were delayed. The delayed activities were: floodplain harvesting BDL changes, Barwon-Darling inflows, and BDL and subsequent SDL adjustments - all due to a lack of WRPs. NSW has since lodged all WRPs with the MDBA for accreditation.

See the full strategy [HERE] for further information. 
Upper Darling Floodplain Groundwater Study
The Exploring for the Future program seeks to understand the nation's mineral, energy and groundwater resource potential. The Upper Darling River Floodplain Groundwater study will identify and better understand groundwater supplies under the floodplain and surrounds.

Until the end of June, Geoscience Australia will conduct field activities in the Brewarrina and Wilcannia, including; surface geophysical surveys, groundwater bore drilling/sampling, geophysical bore logging and seismic data collection.

All data produced by Geoscience Australia will be made freely available after quality assurance has been performed. Further details can be found at
MDBA River Reflections Conference
Tickets are now on sale for the MDBAs annual regional water conference, River reflections, on 14 and 15 June in Narrabri.
Programs and Scholarships
2024 Nuffield ScholarshipsApplications open until 9 June 2023. Allows producers to travel overseas and bring back the latest innovations to develop their businesses and the wider agricultural industry. Find out more [HERE].

Peter Cullen Trust Leadership Program (Women)Applications open until 30 April 2023. A program designed to foster courageous leaders who will drive the sustainable and equitable management of Australia’s waterways and natural environments. Find out more [HERE].

Churchill FellowshipApplications open until 1 May 2023. Churchill Fellowships offer an opportunity to travel overseas for four to eight weeks to explore a topic or issue that they are passionate about. Find out more [HERE]. 
Media releases
All NSWIC media releases are uploaded to our website [HERE].

NSWIC submissions
All NSWIC policy submissions are uploaded to our website [HERE].

NSW DPE-Water consultation opportunities are published [HERE].
Secure – Sustainable – Productive
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