Maps chart impact of water recovery

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Darker areas on the local government map indicates the shires most vulnerable in water recovery measures.

Victoria’s Moira, Loddon and Gannawarra shires are among the government areas considered most vulnerable in water buybacks, according to a new report.

Maps have been developed by ABARES to indicate the areas most sensitive to changes in water access.

The Moira, Loddon, Murray (NSW) and Gannawarra shires are found in the second-highest category for vulnerability.

Balranald, Carathool and Murrumbidgee shires are considered the most vulnerable.

NSW Irrigators’ Council chief executive officer Claire Miller said these basin communities already struggled to survive droughts when water was scarce and too expensive to grow key crops such as rice, which keep vital processing jobs in towns like Deniliquin.

“This report shows more government buybacks will add to costs and water scarcity, leaving these and other vulnerable communities in an even more precarious position,” Ms Miller said.

"Murrumbidgee and mid-NSW Murray communities have little scope to diversify their economies beyond irrigated agriculture — if they could, they already would have done so in response to the price and production impacts of previous buybacks.”

Ms Miller said given the government had been caught out manipulating drought images in its scaremongering urban ad campaign to justify buybacks, it could not be trusted to be honest now about the impacts on communities.

“The ABARES report says more buybacks will increase the average water allocation price about 10 per cent, or $45/Ml,” she said.

“What it doesn’t say is that $45/Ml is on top of an average $72/Ml increase ABARES has already attributed to past water recovery in earlier reports.

“And in Australia, averages mean nothing. An average $45/Ml increase can be expected to surge to hundreds of dollars extra during droughts when prices soar.”

The report says additional water recovery will hurt the Murrumbidgee Valley and the Murray Valley above the Barmah Choke, with the rice industry taking the biggest hit among basin commodities.

Northern Victoria is also vulnerable, but ABARES admits it does not have the data to properly model dairy impacts.

“The government's announcement of $300 million to assist Murray-Darling Basin communities will barely touch the sides of what irrigation-dependent communities will need,” Ms Miller said.

“The economies of agricultural communities are all linked to production. If water buybacks proceed then communities will need much more than a local sugar hit.”

National Irrigators’ Council chief executive officer Zara Lowien said the full implementation of the basin plan would increase the cost of water by $143/Ml on average in the southern basin.

“That doubles the impact on water prices due to the basin plan so far,” Ms Lowien said.

“Signalling any water purchases now will have higher price impacts than previously experienced.

“Putting the production of essential Australian commodities, such as rice and locally supplied milk at risk and that’s before Australia’s in a drought.”