15 December 2011
By COLIN BETTLES
For story/pic - sl.farmonline.com.au/news/nationalrural/agribusiness-and-general/political/basin-plan-cant-hold-water-at-coleambally/2393804.aspx
WHILE Griffith takes centre stage today, smaller Basin communities like Coleambally are also determined to ensure their views are not ignored - again.
Ahead of the Griffith meeting today, NSW Nationals Senator and Young farmer Fiona Nash visited Coleambally Irrigation on Wednesday, hearing the board and other concerned community members voice their concerns with the draft Basin Plan.
Coleambally Irrigation’s presentation included listing the promises it believed were made to rural communities like theirs, after the failed Guide to a draft Basin Plan was released in October 2010.
The company’s list also included a basic rating system for each promise, which contained more ticks than expected but still rated the draft Plan an overwhelming failure, particularly in reference to catering equally for social, economic and environmental concerns.
"The most important promise of a balanced plan has not been delivered; we can’t see it," said Coleambally Irrigation chief John Culleton.
"We are still losing huge amounts of water from the area, similar to what was proposed in the Guide."
Top of the approval list was the Authority’s proposal to have starting dates for the sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) in all States aligned to 2019.
The improved level of public consultation from the MDBA under chairman Craig Knowles also received a tick, as did its commitment to look at smarter ways of recovering water, to draw on local knowledge and recognition of historic effort in water measures already achieved by communities like Coleambally.
However, that approval was tempered by the fact the "line in the sand" for that acknowledgement has been set at 2009, but many successful water recovery efforts date back to 2004.
The Authority’s promises to provide better socio-economic analysis and greater transparency or "no surprises" received a cross, while a question mark was given to promises to deliver better science and a commitment to some form on strategic buyback.
One of several strong objections raised in the meeting was lack of confidence in the plan’s socio-economic modelling and a "simplistic" bureaucratic suggestion the region could switch to sheep farming and grazing, or dairy farmers could move to beef production, in response to having less water available for irrigated agricultural production in future.
"They still don’t get it," one stakeholder said.
Although the MDBA has proposed 2750 gigalitres as its baseline target for SDLs, Coleambally irrigators, community and business representatives still remain unsure how that water will be used to achieve environmental benefits.
They also feel irrigators are being unfairly targeted to provide the majority of water needed for environmental purposes believing a 6 per cent increase in environmental water use efficiency and savings would meet the 2750GL target.
"But if irrigators were just 10pc out we’d get belted," a stakeholder said.
"We have made efficiency improvements of 40pc - so would that be enough?"
Mr Culleton said the draft Basin Plan proposals lacked the elements of a formal business plan with relevant targets and details, and likened the draft to buying a car without an engine.
"Too many parts are missing," he said.
When challenged on the lack of detail - in particular the lack of environmental watering plans, which have been pushed back onto the States to devise - the MDBA said the information was freely available.
Concerns were also raised that 2750GL was a number the Authority had devised without detailing where and how the water will be used for environmental benefits, like putting the cart before the horse.
"The science does not show how they have determined that figure; they have worked from the top down, not the bottom up," the stakeholder said.
Mr Culleton said the community now had to decide if it would declare the draft unacceptable but continue working with the MDBA and government to develop it to an acceptable point.
There was also vibrant discussion about potential community impacts, with Ms Nash saying the government needed to be made aware the water reform processes were already taking a toll on rural communities.
Stakeholders said land values were already decreasing in the area, younger farmers were expressing a reluctance to take over the farm, and business investment was also flagging due to fears about restricted future access to water.
Ms Nash said when the Guide was released last year two major community concerns were expressed: its lack of socio-economic consideration and how the water would be used for environmental benefits.
One irrigation farmer said little had changed this time round and questioned if the river system’s health was really at grave risk.
"Nothing gives me confidence whatsoever in this Plan," he said.
"Socio-economic studies have been done over and over but they are not listening; we have wasted hours at so many meetings.
"The MDBA are only getting the data they want to suit the outcomes they want.
"We already know the impact of this Plan because we experienced it during 10 years of drought.
"People think we are being dramatic or alarmist when we say a man-made drought confronts us because of this Plan - but we are not."
Ms Nash also expressed concern about the lack of vision for Australian agriculture in the face of mounting food security issues - with 9.1 billion global population anticipated by 2050, requiring more food to be produced with less arable land and less water.
Her views were shared by the stakeholders, with many urging Federal politicians to look beyond three-year election cycles and adopt greater long-term vision that included thinking for rural communities.
"This is just a band aid solution and it won’t matter when the next drought comes along," said the stakeholder.
"Why don’t the environmentalists create their own dam?"
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