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 News>Loddon Shire Council's submission to the Murray Darling Basin Plan    
Loddon Shire Council's submission to the Murray Darling Basin Plan  Printer Friendly

SUBMISSION TO THE MURRAY DARLING BASIN AUTHORITY
RE: PROPOSED BASIN PLAN


3 April 2012

Introduction

The Loddon Shire and its community are heavily reliant upon a successful agriculture sector. Agriculture is the predominant land use and the largest economic driver within this municipality.

Agricultural production within the Loddon Shire is valued at in excess of $200 million per annum, with irrigated agriculture contributing significantly to this region.

Any proposal which removes large volumes of irrigation water from the Loddon Shire's irrigation community will have immediate and follow-on negative impacts on this community. Many of the communities in this municipality are already struggling both economically and socially.

This community has suffered in excess of 10 years of drought and then in 2011 has been severely impacted by flooding in the Loddon Valley. Our farming sector and the business community in the many small towns within Loddon Shire are closely interrelated and rely on each other. A reduction in irrigation water and therefore a reduction in potential wealth creation would dramatically impact on all aspects of our community.

Background

Loddon Shire has a population of around 8,000 and a land area of 6,709km2. It is situated 200km north of Melbourne, and 37km from Bendigo (at Bridgewater). The main industries in the Shire are agriculture (39.1%), manufacturing (9.89%), and health care services (8.19%).

Community consultation

This submission has been prepared following consultation with a number of community leaders, industry representatives and with the Loddon Shire community.

Council conducted a community consultation forum in Calivil on 20 February 2012. Approximately 35 passionate industry players attended this forum and assisted Council with the preparation of its submission.

Loddon Shire’s response to the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan

An unimaginable future


Many in our community are gravely concerned that, if the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan is implemented literally, the consequences will be a complete shutdown of irrigated agriculture in much of northern Victoria. The Loddon Shire community believes that many of our small communities will not survive such a drastic economic upheaval. For this reason many in our community are of the view that this plan should not be supported and would want history to show that many in our community opposed in the strongest possible terms any removal of irrigation water from irrigated agriculture in northern Victoria.

Remove the uncertainty

If the Murray Darling Basin Plan is to be implemented, then many in our community believe that it should be done swiftly. Uncertainty is eroding confidence and is clearly stymieing future investment in our communities. Investment in farm expansion has all but halted in the Loddon Shire. Established irrigation farmers are in a quandary as to how to advise their sons and daughters who have an interest in coming home on the farm. A number of farmers have already decided that with this uncertainty there is no future in dairying or irrigated agriculture in this region and have made decisions to exit farming at some future point.

Council contends that if the plan is to be implemented then it is imperative that the government get on with the implementation and remove uncertainty. For this reason, the Council has grave concerns about the 2015 review and what that could mean. Council can see that a future ongoing erosion of confidence in irrigated agriculture will result.

Water for the environment

The amount of water to be taken for environmental purposes must be minimised. Council does not believe that the plan promotes heavily enough the need to do engineering works to deliver environmental water as efficiently as possible. There is anecdotal evidence that significant savings in the amount of water needed for environmental outcomes are to be had through the implementation of selective engineering works at appropriate locations.

The works completed in the Gunbower Forest is only one example of the success of well thought out and engineered environmental works.

Council encourages the Murray Darling Basin Authority to promote the need for these works more heavily within the draft plan.

With Victoria having met its end of valley targets already, there is no more need for water buy backs in this state.

The lower lakes and the barrages

Although the current draft plan does look at the environmental water needs throughout the basin rather than just an end of stream target, Council does believe that there is significant savings to be made and a reduction in the amount of environmental water needed if the barrages on the lower lakes are operated effectively. Council promotes the automation of the operation of the barrages so that a sustainable environmental regime in the lower lakes can be obtained and maintained with considerably less water than is currently required with the antiquated manual operation of the barrages.

Use the opportunities in this plan to support and promote irrigated agriculture

Although Victoria has done much to modernise its irrigation system, there still remains much work to be done. The northern Victorian irrigation renewal project has shown that significant water savings can be achieved through the modernisation of antiquated irrigation systems and through support of on-farm efficiency programs. It is accepted that the cost of water savings achieved through these works is greater than simply entering the water market, but Council implores the government to ensure that it exhausts all possible avenues for modernisation and on-farm efficiency to obtain the water needed for environmental purposes.

By taking such an approach to obtaining water for the environment the Federal government can leave behind a healthier ecosystem and a viable irrigation industry in the Murray Darling Basin and viable communities.

Council is gravely concerned that, if the Murray Darling Basin Plan is implemented literally, Australia will see a significant social dislocation in inland eastern Australia where irrigated agriculture will be shut down or severely curtailed, and the many communities that depend on and service agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin will also be severely impacted. Council is not convinced that the federal government understands the size of the calamity that could be unleashed upon our communities if this plan is implemented literally.

Use of environmental water

Council would like to see the decision-making process on how environmental water will be used spelled out in the draft plan. Council believes the decisions in relation to the application of environmental water should be made at a local level and suggests that the plan should provide for the states to manage this water. In Victoria Council expects that will translate to the catchment management authorities having an advisory role. Catchment management authorities are well connected to their local communities and are in the best position in Victoria to provide appropriate advice on the need for environmental flows.

Conclusion

The draft Murray Darling Basin Plan is a bad plan and will have catastrophic consequences for the Loddon community.

Council understands the importance of a healthy environment in the Murray Darling Basin. Council agrees that additional water is needed for the environment BUT DOES NOT BELIEVE THAT THE PLAN PROMOTES WITH SUFFICIENT VIGOUR THE NEED TO COMPLETELY EXHAUST THE SEARCH FOR WATER SAVINGS THROUGH MODERNISATION WORKS AND ON-FARM EFFICIENCY PROGRAMS.

Council is also gravely concerned about how environmental water will be used and strongly advocates for localised decision-making in relation to the use of environmental flows.

 



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