Our traditional irrigation areas are in a period of significant transition. Change is being forced on the irrigation industry by changing climate, reduced water availability, water recovery to repair environmental damage caused by over-allocation, the corporatisation of farming businesses and new entrants to the water market driving up competition for water and prices. Water is being transferred from traditional irrigation districts downstream to new developments, mainly horticulture.
With this broad-based disruption with-in the irrigation industry it is almost impossible to identify which of these drivers are causing impacts on an isolated local scale.
Increased environmental damage to rivers is being caused by high summer flows delivering downstream irrigation supplies.
The continuation of this trend is not sustainable. Valuable upstream irrigation areas must be maintained.
The transition of upstream irrigation regions must be supported; targeted on-farm efficiency programs are an important part of this support.
We believe many of the criteria put forward by the Victorian and NSW governments and the GMID Water Leadership Group including “not reduce any irrigation or associated jobs now and in the future” and “not have negative third-party impacts on the irrigation system, water market or communities” are unrealistic barriers to sensible industry transition into the future.
Socio-economic criteria should protect current development from the worst impacts; have robust governance safeguards to protect the Nation’s investment but not obstruct much needed transitioning by irrigation industries.
What opportunities do you see in on-farm projects?
Water efficiency projects offer regions opportunities to transition to future conditions, add to regional economies, and increase the resilience of rural businesses and communities.
On-farm efficiency programs have in the past decade played a vital role in assisting adaptation to changed conditions with many successful examples in the dairy and cropping industries.
One of the greatest risks faced is the failure of industries and irrigators to transition to contemporary and emerging management models that are a necessary adjustment to changing climatic conditions, water availability and industry competition.
What risks do you think on-farm projects have for you, your business or community?
Past experience would indicate a risk to genuine benefits for communities is mismanagement of the process and projects. In early phases of on-farm efficiency programs in Victoria, Catchment Management Authorities managed the process with excellent results from independent well planned and managed processes.
This has not always been the case with industry and service providers managing projects who can have obvious conflicts of interest.
These conflicts of interest and related pecuniary interests must be properly managed.
Do existing project criteria adequately manage these opportunities and risks?
Existing project criteria together with recommendations contained in the DAWP discussion paper would manage most significant risks if properly implemented and enforced.
Perceived socio-economic impacts should be considered on broader regional scale, include region centres and not at an isolated local scale.
Criteria must ensure the inclusion of off-setting benefits in any considerations.
What further practical steps could governments, businesses and communities take to manage these risks?
Transitional funding for affected communities included in the Basin Plan was both insufficient and poorly targeted by the States leaving some local communities unfairly impacted. Additional federal funding should be appropriated to assist the most disadvantaged communities’ transition to more sustainable industry models.
Maintain socio-economic criteria that protect current development from the worst impacts, but not obstruct much need transitioning and have robust governance safeguards to protect industries and communities.
What other criteria could governments consider, including any criteria identified by Basin Governments?
- Identify, improve and clarify social and environmental outcomes at local and regional scales
- Identify, protect and improve Aboriginal values.
- Identify and quantify the benefits of improved ecosystem services and resilience to the community and industries
- Identify and describe the amenity, social and well-being benefits of a healthier environment
- Identify benefits for tourism and water-based recreation
- Identify benefits for economic growth, stronger and more viable enterprises and industries
- On-farm water efficiency projects must increase agricultural productive capacity.
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