Minister’s allocation inquiry

October 12, 2017

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair says he’s already launched an investigation into the disparity in general security irrigation allocations and NSW water storages.

It was sparked by his surprise at last week hearing Murray Valley irrigators were only given a one per cent general security allocation increase — to 29 per cent.

It is despite the Dartmouth and Hume dams both holding more than 80 per cent of their capacity.

The allocation announcement coincided with the minister’s visit to Deniliquin, alongside Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Speaking with the Pastoral Times, Mr Blair said he acted as soon as he heard the news.

‘‘I already have my office looking into the issue, and I believe it is an issue to do with carryover,’’ he said.

‘‘I understand that farmers are facing a small window in which they can plant rice.

‘‘The (allocation) formula is set on a risk adverse approach because of past concerns — these are issues I am well and truly across.

‘‘It is worth noting that Hume is operated by the Murray Darling Basin Authority, so we need to work with them also.’’

Irrigators and food producers widely believe allocations are being impacted by carryover water taking up ‘air space’ in the dams. It includes water being held by irrigators and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

West Berriquin Irrigators chair and Speak Up spokesperson Shelley Scoullar said it unfortunately leads to ‘‘disappointing’’ allocations for dedicated growers.

‘‘Obviously there are rules around how allocation can be made, but what we’re convinced of is the water market is distorting availability and placing pressure of farmers and systems,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.

‘‘With water at the price it is (currently selling between $130 and $250 according to Murray Irrigation) people are wondering whether to use it or sell it.

‘‘What we want to see is more water on farms — we have an appetite to see it used productively, creating jobs and supporting the local economy.

‘‘I am pleased to hear the minister is alarmed enough with last week’s announcement that he is willing to investigate.’’

The NSW Department of Primary Industries Water said although dry, showers and ‘‘better than expected tributary inflow recessions’’ in September allowed for the small increase.

‘‘Carryover in accounts has been revised upward by 40 gigalitres to 730 gigalitres, an average of 44 per cent of general security entitlement.

‘‘Incorrect system debiting of supplementary usage from some general security accounts was found, which meant that these account balances were too low and carryover was underestimated.

‘‘With the correction it means that overall general security water availability is 73 per cent of entitlement in the valley.’’

The next NSW DPI Water allocation announcement is due on October 16.

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