A new consultants’ report may pave the way for the Murray-Darling Basin to get more water for the environment.
The report, commissioned by the Federal Government, says it is possible to get the 450 Gl of ‘up-water’ in addition to the agreed target of 2750 Gl without causing negative socio-economic damage.
And new Federal Water Minister David Littleproud has already said he wants to see the 450 Gl delivered.
The Ernst and Young report has been described as “disappointing” by Goulburn Valley water leaders and joint chair of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group David McKenzie.
Mr McKenzie said although it was a bulky document, there appeared to be little new analysis or insight that might help basin state ministers make sound decisions about how to design appropriate strategies and programs to complete the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Water leaders are worried that taking the extra 450 Gl from the consumptive pool will damage irrigation communities.
Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive officer Sam Birrell said the executive summary of the report stated there was evidence the 450 Gl could be recovered, subject to a number of “overarching risks”.
“They have missed the biggest risk of all — that continued removal of water from the consumptive pool for irrigation makes some regions and industries unviable in seasons with lower water allocation,” Mr Birrell said.
The committee continues to be worried about the way the Murray-Darling Basin Authority addresses concerns from community leaders.
“The report identified an absence of trust in stakeholder engagement,” Mr Birrell said.
“This has manifested itself in the very nature of the Ernst and Young report consultation process.
“Our leaders who participated in these consultations have reported to us that the tone of the discussion was ‘how do we get the water’ not ‘can we get the water with no negative socio-economic impact’.”
State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed has described the Ernst and Young review as “a lightweight report” that raised more questions than it answered.
Ms Sheed said it did not provide the data needed for state water ministers to make informed decisions.
“This report is little more than a surface-level assessment based on inaccurate data assumptions,” Ms Sheed said.
“Not only have the potential water savings been inflated, the cost of on-farm efficiency measures and the market price of high-reliability water shares have been considerably underestimated and no costing has been provided for any of the proposed regional development initiatives for communities.”
Ms Sheed’s disappointment extended to the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District — estimated to have negative outcomes arising from the basin plan — which was not considered “worthy of a case study with a targeted analysis of the impacts of future water removal” in the report.
“We have been telling anyone who will listen for some time now that the GMID is at a tipping point — it has been struggling under the strain of the basin plan and will not be able to withstand the removal of any further water,” Ms Sheed said.
“There has clearly been an overriding imperative in the preparation of this report to find the extra 450 Gl of water at all costs, effectively writing the GMID off as an unfortunate loser who could be placated with funding for non-related community and industry needs.