THE Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has called on the Murray-Darling Ministerial Council to urgently undertake a review of water deliveries to ensure irrigators won’t be restricted during critical peak summer demand.
The VFF said the risk that water would not be delivered at critical times for different crops was growing, as expansion of horticulture downstream of the Barmah Choke was changing river demand patterns.
It called on the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments to urgently address the issue.
“There have been significant changes in river operations and demand for water in recent years. Irrigators, governments and the environmental water holders need to understand all of the risks associated with delivering water,” VFF Water Council chairman, Richard Anderson, said.
Mr Anderson said the failure to deliver water at critical times could cause catastrophic crop losses, particularly to established irrigators downstream of the Barmah Choke in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.
Over 1000 gigalitres of water entitlements have permanently left the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District for downstream systems.
Modelling by Goulburn Murray Water, Lower Murray Water, the Murray Darling Basin Authority and the Commonwealth Government has shown almond plantings will require an additional 1500 gigaltires of water annually by 2027.
Mr Anderson said as horticultural water demands increased, the likelihood of delivery shortfalls impacting all irrigators and the environment also increased.
“There is a limit to how much water can physically be delivered downstream, and that limit has reduced as erosion causes river banks to collapse,” he said.
“The capacity of the Murray at the Barmah Choke has decreased by 1100 megalitres per day over the past 10 years due to severe erosion caused by running the river too high. The large volume of summer deliveries has also caused costly erosion in the Goulburn and Mitta Mitta rivers.
“It is time to take stock of risks to water delivery, including the potential for third party impacts from overbank flows.”
The VFF is urging State and Commonwealth Water Ministers to discuss these issues at the Ministerial Council meeting this week and to direct the Murray Darling Basin Authority, working with State departments and agencies, to report in early 2019 on:
- The current and future risks of delivery shortfalls
- The frequency, duration and severity of projected shortfalls
- The consequences of shortfalls to irrigators and the environment
- Actions being taken to mitigate these shortfalls
- A program to properly inform water users of the risks of shortfall and potential third party impacts, and actions being taken to mitigate these risks