MRSG develops solutions

The Murray Regional Strategy Group has developed a suite of possible solutions to help address issues with controversial floodplain harvesting in northern New South Wales.

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The group, which represents farmer and community organisations in the Murray region of NSW, developed the solutions as a way of making a positive contribution to the floodplain harvesting (FPH) debate. It follows legislation that allows FPH exemptions and a subsequent disallowance motion before the NSW Parliament.

“The problem that has arisen with excessive expansion of floodplain harvesting is the pressure it can put on the Murray River and its upstream storages. If water is not flowing down the Darling, the Murray is left to meet the deficiencies. How is this fair? We need policy changes to address this,” MRSG chair Geoff Moar said.

He said MRSG’s solutions include:

  • Rule changes so the Murray does not have to meet shortfalls when the Darling cannot meet its historic 39 per cent co-contribution to the minimum South Australian Entitlement Flow of 1850 gigalitres at the SA border.
  •  The Northern Basin move to full installation of meters to AS4747 standards which include compliant data logging and telemetry to the same standard as the NSW Murray Valley.
  • Ensure greater protection mechanisms of cultural and environmental needs in the Lower Darling.
  • Licensing the FPH cap to 210GL.
  • To secure a higher level of take above the 210GL cap in northern NSW, consider: (a) amending legislation through the Murray Darling Basin Agreement to reduce the obligation of the Murray to meet the shortfalls

of the Darling in dry sequences, so the Murray is not left with 100% of the shortfall when limits of the system cannot meet the demand; (b) Begin a series of ‘end of system’ projects to reduce demand on the Murray by the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth.

Mr Moar said MRSG acknowledges floodplain harvesting and other forms of rainfall harvesting are an essential practice to support irrigated agriculture in the Northern Basin, both in Queensland and NSW. However, it needs to be recognised a cap was put in place in 1993-94 with a sustainable level of take through FPH for the entire Murray-Darling Basin, however the north has continued to grow above and beyond this level at the expense of the Murray.

“With rules in place to govern the management of Menindee Lakes, an unreasonable burden is being placed on the Murray system, which in turn is causing its own issues.

“We believe the solutions presented by MRSG can restore the balance,” Mr Moar said.

He also pointed out the implications of the disallowance motion would have little impact on the NSW Murray because infrastructure and regulation do not allow for floodplain harvesting as it occurs in the north. This is due to:

• Basic landholder rights under Section 53 of the Water Act

• Land and Water Management Plan requirements to store water

• General differences in rainfall patterns and events

• Lack of on-farm major structures and storages as the result of reliability on General Security Entitlements, coupled with major off farm water storages.

November 9, 2020