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September 13th 2011 print

Debbie Buller

Despair on the land

We spent the entire year of 2007 on a zero allocation yet our water bill that year was over $50,000. We were informed that there was no water for our type of enterprise. When water supply is critical, that’s how the Water Sharing Plan works.

This year we have record inflows to dams and rivers, a deep snow pack and all environmental assets are totally sodden.  It is inconceivable that farmers on the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers have insufficient access to their irrigation water entitlements. Yet, on the Murray River, allocations are at 15 percent and on the Murrumbidgee, where I farm, they are currently at 57 percent.

On our farm, near Leeton in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, we grow many different cereal crops such as wheat, corn, oats, barley, canola and rice. We also graze sheep. Others grow cotton, grapes, citrus, almonds, fruit and vegetable crops. Some also have pigs, cattle, goats and other grazing stock. All of us need access to our water entitlements via the NSW Office of water to be able to efficiently grow this bountiful produce. We also need to have a clear indication of our allocations by September so that we can complete our winter cropping/grazing programs and plan our summer cropping/grazing programs.

During the years of crippling drought, broad acre irrigators like us had little to no access to their water entitlements. Despite that fact, we were all expected to pay full asset charges based on 100% of our water entitlements. 

We spent the entire year of 2007 on a zero allocation yet our water bill that year was over $50,000. We were informed that there was no water for our type of enterprise. When water supply is critical, that’s how the Water Sharing Plan works.

We were also informed that water bureaucracies still needed to have their income to maintain delivery systems: thus the need for us to continue to pay despite no water being delivered to our farms.

Because the recent drought was a long one, many of our friends and neighbours were not able to survive those financial burdens.  Some were forced to sell everything and others forced to sell part of their entitlements in order to ‘hang on’ until circumstances changed.  Sadly, very sadly, some could not bear to watch themselves lose everything their families had worked for and we lost good productive people in the worst possible way.

After years of crippling drought, followed by a season of significant floods, we desperately need to be able to plan confidently for the next few seasons. We know the circumstances have radically changed. Why are our water authorities refusing to recognise that?

Based on current conditions, we should reasonably expect 100% of allocation. Instead we have the NSW Office of Water arguing, by using computer models, that there ‘might’ be a water shortage. Due to some ‘intra state rules’ some water has even been ‘double dipped’ and counted twice in the storage facilities. These computer models and rules are being used to claim that farmers like us can have no secure access to our entitlements. Therefore, we can have no support from our water authorities to plan our farming programs.  

Interestingly, while being informed there is shortage; farmers are also being informed that there is plenty of water for sale and they could buy that instead of complaining about low allocations.

I wonder if it has occurred to them that we think it is perfectly reasonable to be able to access the water we have already paid for, many times over, before we have to go out and buy more. Wouldn’t anyone?

I wonder if it has occurred to them that claiming there is a shortage and then claiming there is plenty for sale, appears duplicitous to those of us who are still waiting for our full allocations.

I wonder if they have even thought to consider the needs of the businesses they are supposed to be servicing/ supplying and who pay a significant portion of their wages.

If owners of water entitlements are denied reasonable access in a season like this one, something is wrong …. very wrong.

‘Adaptive Management’ is a concept enshrined in the NSW Water Management Act and has also been picked up as a ‘buzz phrase’ by Craig Knowles and the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Considering all water -dependant environmental assets have roared back to life and there is obviously no water shortage anywhere except inside those computer models, the bureaucratic definition of “adaptive management” must be very different to mine. 

Debbie Buller is a broad acre irrigator in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and is currently the president of the Murrumbidgee Valley Food and Fibre Association.


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