Farmers' water rights at stakeby Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
, March 8, 2003
The community process to engage farmers on proposals to take up to 15% of their water right down the Murray-Darling Basin to improve environmental flows (see last News Weekly) has been a failure.
Even farmers who attended some of these consultations have come away unaware of the intention to cut their water allocations by up to 15%.
According to The Living Murray
discussion paper, produced by the Murray-Darling Ministerial Council, Stage 1 of the policy process (July-December 2002) was to inform the community in the basin of the proposals.
Stage 2 (April to September 2003) is for the basin community and the Federal and State governments' Ministerial Council to provide a comprehensive analysis for the provision of additional environmental flows based on taking 5%, 10% or 15% of the water allocations from farmers; evaluate the impact of these proposals on farmers; seek views on a preferred way of proceeding; and prepare a proposal to be put to the joint Federal and State Ministerial Council Meeting in October 2003.
Stage 3 (from November 2003 onwards) is to implement the decisions of the Ministerial Council.
The final decision of the Ministerial Council is likely to be coloured by political considerations. The ALP State governments are anxious for a decision that appeases the green vote.
The concern is that the Council will compromise and pick the middle option, taking 10% of farmers water allocation.
Until the 19th Century, the river stopped flowing some summers. Wild life was restricted to the permanent stretches of river. Long sections went dry. But once locks, weirs and dams were constructed along the basin, the rivers held permanent water and wildlife expanded.
Originally, this construction was for river boat transportation, before railroads and roads.
In the 20th Century, governments had the choice of using the river as an irrigation channel for the new farmland areas being opened, or of building long irrigation channels away from the river. Governments chose the easy option of using the rivers as the basin's irrigation channel.
As governments made these decisions and as Australians have obtained cheap food and water from this great basin, the cost of rectifying any environmental problems must be substantially borne by governments and the community.
Farmers and local communities need to become informed about the government proposals for the basin. They can obtain The Living Murray
discussion paper by calling the Ministerial Council on 1800 687 044 or faxing them on 02 62488053, or going to their web site www.thelivingmurray.mdbc.gov.au
- People wanting to form action groups on the issue can call Pat Byrne at the National Civic Council, 03 93265757.