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Opposition shares PM’s Murray-Darling concern

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The Federal Opposition’s water spokesman, Anthony Albanese, says he shares the Prime Minister’s concern over water supplies in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Federal Government says very heavy rains will be needed soon if there is to be any irrigation from the Murray-Darling Basin, and is under fire for not acting sooner over the extreme water shortage.

The Prime Minister has released details of a report saying that it is likely that water will only be available for towns and none could be taken for irrigation or environmental purposes.

Mr Albanese says the report shows the need for a national plan on climate change.

“Unless you have a plan to tackle climate change, you won’t address the water crisis,” he said.

“Unless you have a plan to address water across the Murray-Darling Basin over the long-term, you won’t address the water crisis.”

Water Minister Malcolm Turnbull says it is a long standing problem.

“It is important to remember that even though we have had average rainfalls in the first few months of this calendar year, because the ground is so dry and because the ground water systems have been so depleted, we have not seen the run-off into the streams,” he said.

“That’s why the Prime Minister is saying we really need very heavy rains.

“We need big rains to make a difference.”

The Greens say its a sign the Murray is dying and farming practices along the river will never be the same again.

The Democrats say the alarm bells should have been ringing years ago.

The South Australian Government says it will wait for rain for six weeks before stripping River-Murray irrigators of water allocations.

Adelaide’s level three water restrictions may also increase to level four or level five.

A proposed weir at Wellington, south of Adelaide, is still an option for securing the city’s water supply.

South Australian Water Security Minister Karlene Maywald says the Government has been forced to take unprecedented action.

“A decision on what the final allegations for irrigators will be won’t be made until the 15th of June,” she said.

“We will be monitoring the situation extremely closely and as time progresses we’ll be able to update and provide more information for the community.”

The Murray-Darling Association, which represents councils along the river basin, says Adelaide is not doing enough to reduce the amount of water it uses.

The association’s chief executive, Ray Najar, says Adelaide’s water restrictions are not tough enough.

“Adelaide’s been soft-pedalling on its water supplies over the last two or three years,” he said.

“We’ve got out of jail a few times because of our local rains and catchment, but of course last year was a failure and this year doesn’t look much better.”

The South Australian Opposition Leader, Martin Hamilton-Smith, says the next state budget needs to make allowances for River-Murray irrigators.

“The Premier is nowhere to be seen and the Minister for Water Security has no answers,” he said.

“They’d better get their heads together quickly because there would be families in the Riverland wondering about how they’re going to pay the bills, how they’re going to meet their commitments and how their families and their small businesses are going to survive.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Central Irrigators Trust says there is some doubt whether zero water allocations will mean River-Murray irrigators will have to stop watering their crops altogether.

The executive officer of the trust, Jeff Parish, says he expects allocations will increase later in the financial year once the season turns.

But he says it is not clear whether irrigators will be able to continue applying some water before then.

“South Australia’s never had a start that has a duck for a figure and I think the jury is out as to whether that means you can’t water or what I think it means,” he said.

“You’re taking a reasonable chance that you will apply some water in the expectation that allocations will be announced as the season progresses.”

Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Steve Bracks says irrigators were told in February they may not get any water allocations.

But he says there is some hope that irrigators will get water allocations closer to spring.

“It’s not dissimilar to what happened last year,” he said.

“Last year on the Murray-Goulburn system our irrigators had, at the start of the season, 20 per cent allocation.

“By the end of it they had 95 per cent as it moves through July into the spring period.”

John Cherry from the Queensland Farmers Federation says stopping irrigation altogether will not come as much of a shock.

“This news is not new news for most irrigators in Queensland because there has been no irrigation water available for most of our irrigation schemes in the Murray-Darling Basin,” he said.

The New South Wales Irrigators Council says the lack of water in the Murray-Darling Basin this year will be devastating for thousands of producers.

The council’s chief executive, Doug Miell, says fruit and vegetable prices will go up as many key crops will not survive without water.

“It will flow way beyond the impact of the local region, it will be national most definitely and it will be very quick as well,” Mr Miell said.

“We’ve already seen in a lot of our supermarkets prices reflecting the water shortages and the quality issues as well, and that’s going to flow right on again as a result of this water cutback.”

Alan Brown from the New South Wales Farmers Association says he is glad the Federal Government is now considering further support for drought-affected farmers.

“I welcome the fact that they have realised just the scale of this disaster,” Mr Brown said.

“We’ve been saying for some time that it needs to be revisited.

“They need to be aware that this is a disaster and that extra means are now to be put in place to help those people through.” … original publication here


Written by Greg Naylor

19 April 2007 at 7:37 pm

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