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Turning off the tap - NSW farmers feeling the pain

| 29.11,11. 02:02 AM |


Turning off the tap - NSW farmers feeling the pain

 November 29, 2011

THEY are the regional NSW towns under threat and at the heart of the latest political war over the bid to save the Murray Darling Basin.
Farming communities such as Griffith and Deniliquin in the Murrumbidgee Valley in the state's south are expected to shoulder the burden of water savings under the federal government's long-awaited new blueprint.

The release of the Murray Darling Basin Authority's draft plan yesterday triggered a fresh water war, with claims the report did not go far enough to save the river system; and that it went too far and would cripple farmers and force up food prices.

The plan outlined an annual water savings target of 2750 gigalitres by 2019 - down from the 3000 to 4000 gigalitre range originally flagged - but could be substantially reduced if the states can find extra water savings.

While almost 1300 gigalitres of the target have already been recovered through buyback and infrastructure improvement schemes, the draft plan found irrigators in southern NSW and Victoria would provide 85 per cent of the total water shortfall.

Farmers in northern NSW and Queensland have been spared in comparison, providing the remaining 15 per cent.

Greens and environmental groups yesterday claimed the savings target fell short of the 3000 to 7600 gigalitres scientists proposed to reduce salinity and restore environmental flora and fauna in the basin.

But farmers and irrigators said the plan would sink confidence and business investment in towns - putting thousands of jobs at risk, reducing food supply and forcing up fruit and vegetable prices.

Griffith mayor Mike Neville said 7000 job losses could occur in the towns surrounding his, compared with a report released laster the MDBA that put the potential job losses at 1600..

"The people here feel they have been left out," he said.

As the South Australian government flagged a High Court challenge, Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Craig Knowles called for all parties to work together towards a positive outcome.

He said communities would be given time to adjust to the change over the next seven years.

"We have endeavoured to strike a balance," Mr Knowles said. "We need to stop having a tug of war."

Federal Water Minister Tony Burke, who is facing a hostile reception at a meeting with locals in Griffith today, promised farmers would not be forced to sell water. He said a target of more than 3000 gigalitres was unmanageable because of water channel constraints.

"There's no consensus position here, never has been, never will be," Mr Burke said of the hostile reaction.

While the plan will be reviewed in 2015, the public can comment on the draft plan over the next 20 weeks.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson, who will undertake a regional tour to inform areas of the state's submission, attacked the plan for relying too heavily on NSW.

"At this stage it certainly seems as though NSW is giving much more than the other states," she said.

But Greens federal water spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the targets did not go far enough and wanted the 7600 gigalitre level recommended by scientists.

"If the plan isn't improved, it will simply become a multi-billion dollar flop, and our river will not recover," she said.NSW Farmers Association president Fiona Simson said last night that some farmers would be pushed into a corner to sell their water entitlements.


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