News

Councils unite on water

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

For the first time in living memory, community leaders across the drought-ravaged Murray and southern Riverina region have united to develop a position on water.

It is intended to show government a way to provide future water security for the region.

Riverina and Murray Joint Organisation (RAMJO) chair councillor Kevin Mack said leaders in the region had long been concerned about the increasingly complex water debate over the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘We have seen firsthand how confused and frustrated people are by what has been happening — or not happening — to address water issues across the Murray Darling Basin,’’ he said.

‘‘So, our communities have come together with a single voice to put sensible options on the table and offer a way forward to balance environmental, social and agricultural needs.’’

RAMJO — a cooperation of 11 member councils in southern NSW — convened a Water Security sub-committee of mayors, general managers and expert council staff from across the region, who worked together for a year to develop a series of solutions. 

The resulting ‘Water Position Paper’ outlines options to ease some of the crippling water situations in the region, as well as lay a foundation for a future built on innovation and adaptation.

There are eight key recommendation areas relating to the water market, impact of water prices on agricultural diversity and security, environmental flows, infrastructure for now and the future, conveyance water and losses, drought, climate change, and agricultural adaption through investment and research.

One of its individual recommendations is the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund to ‘‘provide a permanent source of funding for drought relief, infrastructure development, system maintenance and adaption’’.

Water Security sub-committee chair Chris Bilkey — who is Murray River Council Mayor — said the committee has attempted to take a whole-of-basin approach to the environment, economy and community, rather than a parochial regional approach.

‘‘We acknowledge that the range of solutions presented in this paper will not completely solve the serious issues damaging the ecology and our communities,’’ he said.

‘‘Both the short term and longer term options require the meaningful sustained support of federal and state governments for the greater good of the river system and the people who rely on it.’’

‘‘This is the first time a major portion of the local government entities in the Basin have come together — including some differing sides of the water debate — to propose practical solutions. 

‘‘Individually, people and groups had their own concerns and have been fighting for years to be heard. They have now put aside differences and focussed on the similarities for the good of the region, and its river system. 

‘‘We stand together for the future of this region, and we welcome the chance to present our options for solutions to the big issues facing our communities and their natural lifeline, the Murray Darling river system.”

Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley has acknowledges the ‘‘enormous effort’’ of RAMJO to ‘‘achieve consensus across what is a large and diverse part of the southern Basin’’.

‘‘Debate over irrigation and water allocation has often been disjointed, with any number of different voices each calling for alternate outcomes relevant to their area of interest. This has not only occurred across the entire basin, but within New South Wales itself and often inside a single community or valley,’’ Ms Ley said.

‘‘I want to congratulate them on their new Position Paper; there is much to work with here but also much of which our government is already pursuing at a national level.

‘‘An ACCC Water Markets Interim Report is due to be tabled by the Water Minister in coming weeks. The Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council is also working towards a water market which will demonstrate greater transparency for each and every user on the system. 

‘‘The reporting and monitoring of environmental flows is particularly important, as are improvements in the way that conveyance water is calculated and allocated. And the National Water Grid Authority is already funded to help deliver the water infrastructure and future dams we need to increase our nation’s water security. 

‘‘I have already written to Minister Pitt seeking a meeting with the RAMJO mayors so we can further explore our common goals inside the Basin Plan — goals that will secure water for farmers, build resilience for future droughts and foster prosperity in both Farrer and across regional Australia.’’

To read the RAMJO Water Position Paper visit www.ramjo.nsw.gov.au/waterpositionpaper.