To: Murray-Darling Basin Authority
Guide to the Basin Plan

Made: December 2010

EFN represents farmers in Southeast Australia interested in sustainable farming in a social, environmental and economic sense. We represent mostly commercial farmers very concerned about the impact of climate change on farms, people and landscapes, loss of farm biodiversity and the impact of peri-urban development on farming. The Environmental Farmers Network gives voice to a growing number of farmers dedicated to the environmental health of rural regions whose views are not being represented by traditional farmer organizations.

We strongly support the development of the Basin Plan by the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority as outlined in the Water Act 2007 and urge the Federal Parliament to support the process.

Over-allocation of water resources and the deteriorating health of the river system are indisputable. At risk is the Basin’s productive capacity based on the services provided by its natural environment
We need to act to protect our riverine environment and the productive capacity of the Murray Darling Basin.
The build up of salt imported into irrigation areas is not sustainable.
The need for salt disposal and the flushing capacity required for not only water quality with-in stream but also to maintain critical salt balance with-in irrigation areas is often underestimated.
There is real possibility of environmental failure, the collapse of rural communities and the productive capacity of in the Basin.

The Water Act was designed to give the environment precedence to bring the environment up to par with social and economic considerations in the Basin. This was the basic intent of the Act.
We believe the Water Act reflects the stated intent of all political parties, has had bi-partisan support of two parliaments and correctly gives initial precedence to the environmental requirements to maintain a healthy sustainable river system.
The popular call for a triple bottom line approach to the production of the Basin Plan puts at risk the natural resource base that rural communities and economies rely on.

The 3000GL to 4000GL scenarios being promoted in the Guide to the Basin Plan appear minimum volumes required and would need to be adaptively managed. These scenarios rely on a return to higher rainfall patterns, a minimal change in climate and would need to be reviewed within a five year period. An analysis of benefits and impacts on social and economic values of not only all three scenarios in the Guide to the Basin Plan,  but also higher levels up to and including  7600GL should be carried out as part of the plan following a determination of an initial minimum volume of environmental water required.

The current policy of buying water from willing sellers has the potential to both lessen the productive capacity of the Basin and also adversely impact the viability of irrigators and rural communities.  Victorian examples of water savings from both on-farm and infrastructure remodeling projects combined with targeted buybacks have retained economic outputs and are preferable to purchases from willing sellers. As part of the adjustment/transition programs there should be research and development projects focused in increasing productivity - aiming for twice the production using half the water on half the land.

The environmental benefits from the Environmental Water Reserve should be enhanced by close working relationships with water delivery Authorities, the ability of the Reserve to trade on the temporary water market and the use of engineering options. The temporary trading of the Environmental Water Reserve has the capacity to increase water available to irrigators in dry periods and to the environment in wetter conditions.

The consultation process embarked on by the Murray Darling Basin Authority has provided fertile grounds for disruptive and divisive actions across the entire Basin. We believe future consultation should be more regionally based and utilize the experience of the Northern Sustainable Water Strategy in Victoria. The Campaspe and Torrumbarry Irrigation Areas are also good examples of community based decision making for the retirement and re-configuration of irrigation areas.

In considering the water account for each valley catchment we think an integrated approach is required. Surface water diversion, groundwater extractions, farm dam, flood plain irrigation and plantation interceptions all to be considered and addressed with the benefit of local input.

Irregularities with-in the Guide to the Basin Plan at local levels could them be considered and resolved by local communities.

Out of bank flows can be assisted by engineering works, including weirs and pumps. However, the effectiveness of engineering works can fall short of the benefits accruing from floods and careful analysis of costs and benefits needs to be completed.

The potential legal ramifications for Authorities delivering environmental watering urgently need attention under the State and Federal legislation.

We urge political leaders to present the Basin Plan as the environmental, social and economic positive it undoubtedly is for Murray Darling Basin. The process set out in the Act needs to be clearly outlined to basin communities including the political process post delivery of the plan to Government.
The intent of the Plan was correct in 2007, the need has been magnified following experiences since that date and the benefits of planning for the long term rather than short term expediency needs to be promoted.

John Pettigrew
Spokesperson for Environmental Farmers Network
150 Maneroo Road, Bunbartha. Phone 03 5826 9557

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