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Murray-Darling farmers face water shut-off

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Prime Minister John Howard says irrigation water for farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin will be cut off if there is no significant rain in the next six to eight weeks.

Mr Howard says the basin is suffering from an “unprecedentedly dangerous” water shortage but water will continue to be available for “critical urban” water supplies.

The Prime Minister was speaking after receiving a report from experts which was sent to him and to state premiers.

The expert committee was set up after the emergency water meeting Mr Howard held with the premiers on Melbourne Cup Day last year.

“I just want to say that this underlines the critical situation that we face if there is not significant rainfall over the next few weeks,” he said.

“It’s a grim situation and there’s no point in pretending to the Australian public otherwise.

“The report is confident there’ll be adequate water for basic human consumption and other needs,” Mr Howard continued.

Mr Howard says it could be devastating for crops like grapes and stone fruit as well as the dairy industry.

He says all farmers in the basin are eligible for drought assistance and he is urgently looking at what extra help the Government can offer.

Victoria’s Water Minister John Thwaites says the Prime Minister is not being alarmist and describes the situation as critical.

“It is horrendous. We’re facing the worst stream flows we’ve ever faced,” he said.

“Just to put it into perspective, over the past year when you expect the dams to be filled we’ve had only half the amount of stream flow that we got in the worst drought of 1982-83.”

The National Farmers Federation says the outlook for irrigators is catastrophic, with chief executive Ben Fargher warning of a massive financial impact on farmers.

“For high security users and those irrigators with tree crops, crops like almonds, citrus, olives, to name a few, if those crops actually die because there’s no water then that has a significant impact for many, many years to come because it takes so much time to establish new crops and so much money to do so,” he said.

New South Wales Irrigators Council chief executive Doug Miell says permanent plantings of citrus trees, wine grapes, olives and almonds will not survive next summer without water.

Mr Miell says the lack of irrigation will be devastating for thousands of producers.

“The quality of their produce, if there is any will be a lot lower than it ever has been and I would suspect most of them would be struggling for income and struggling to survive,” he said.

“You might as well say [it will be] almost a total loss of income for them, not just for this year, you’re talking for high security permanent planning, it’s a loss of income for perhaps the next four or five years.”

Lester Valley is chairman of the Murray Valley Community Action Group which represents 40,000 people in small towns in a mainly irrigated agricultural area of southern New South Wales.

He says there is no sign of a change in the dry conditions and help will be needed very soon.

“I think mainly the Government needs to concentrate on the way it’s going to support economically the infrastructure of the towns and areas right throughout the Murray-Darling basin,” he said. … original publication here

Written by Greg Naylor

19 April 2007 at 7:29 pm

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