AGRICULTURE: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Water rights and trading petition launched
, August 23, 2003
A petition has been launched aimed at protecting farmers' water rights and at stopping water barons from exploiting water trading.
The petition, launched by the Water Rights Committee in rural Victoria, is aimed at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), and all the Federal and State Murray Darling Basin decision making bodies.
The petition is in response to The Living Murray proposals to remove up to 15% of farmers' water allocations for environmental flows over the next 10 years.
A CSIRO report for the Murray Darling Basin Commission suggests that this could increase to 30% over twenty years. It is also in response to a proposed national water trading system.
The petition is to be circulated to local councils, commodity groups, community groups and trade unions.Large meeting
The petition follows a recent meeting in Rochester where 450 farmers, business and community leaders strongly protested the Living Murray proposals. Speakers said it was doubtful that increasing water flows would solve the varied environmental issues in the basin, but would wreck much of the economy of the region.
Those involved in producing the petition include: Neil Eagle, a leading citrus grower and water activist from Barham; Neil Repacholi, a councillor with the Campaspe Shire Council and dairy farmer; Karen McClintock, a dairy farmer from Cobram; Anthony Gray, a Rochester dairy farmer; and Daryl McDonald, a fourth generation Murray Valley farmer on the Murray at Murrabit. It was also produced in consultation with leading water industry experts.
The petition explains that the rivers in the basin are not universally degraded. The basin is a mosaic that has different environmental issues in different regions. Any change in one region will affect other regions.
"The peak of salinity in the Murray River was in 1982, and good catchment management has seen water salinity reduced dramatically at Swan Hill, Mildura and Morgan.
"Native fish species are thriving again. Some regions face environmental problems that vary from region to region. For example, in excess of 50% of all salt entering the Murray comes from South Australia, which constitutes only 6.7% of the Basin. Because of river regulation, Adelaide enjoys high quality water all year round. Without regulation Adelaide's water would be brackish six months a year."
The petition calls for the honouring of "all existing rights and licences of irrigation farmers" and for the clear defining of property rights.
It roundly rejects moves for a national water trading system, warning that such a policy would open up the water market to speculators who would force up the price of water, threatening agriculture in the Basin.
The petition calls for the formation of a new, specialist water authority, with expertise in river flows, catchment, land and environment management, and involving community nominated representatives, to manage both the agricultural and urban environmental issues in the basin.
It lists eight environmental issues requiring careful management:
- "instream habitat: the logs, water plants, water turbidity and temperature that affect river life;
- "riparian zone health, relating to stream bank stability, land and vegetation adjoining the river like wet lands and billabongs, and flood effects on the regeneration of the flora and fauna;
- "instream structures: the siting and management of locks, dams and weirs which affect river flow, irrigation use and riparian zone flooding;
- "seasonality of flows: the natural regeneration cycle is in July-September (coinciding with the periodic, traditional snow melt leading to river flooding), whereas main flow timing is November-February when farmers irrigate;
- "salinity management, catchment area by catchment area;
- "control of pest species;
- "losses of water in the distribution channels and impoundments; and
- "volume of water flows down the rivers in the Basin."
The petition strongly argues that these issues must be systematically addressed, that the last to be altered is environmental flows.
If an objective scientific assessment then shows a need for increased environment flows, then this is to be achieved by investment in water saving measures, not by removing farmers' water allocations.
Copies of the petition are available from The Environment and Water Rights Committee, PO Box 92, Rochester, Victoria, 3561, or on the Internet from the News Weekly
website, at www.newsweekly.com.au/docs/waterpetition.pdf