Murray-Darling Basin Ernst and Young study finds 450 gigalitres can be recovered without negative socio-economic impacts

STUDY: The Ernst and Young report into Murray-Darling Basin efficiency measures finds that 450GL of water can be recovered without negative socio-economic impacts.
STUDY: The Ernst and Young report into Murray-Darling Basin efficiency measures finds that 450GL of water can be recovered without negative socio-economic impacts.

Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association has questioned whether the recovery of a proposed 450 gigalitres of water could be achieved without negative impacts on Murray-Darling Basin communities, following the release of an efficiency measures report.

The Ernst and Young study into basin efficiency measures, which was released on Friday, January 19, has found that the 450GL can be recovered with neutral or positive socio-economic impacts.

Commissioned by the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council last year, the more than 300 page report by Ernst and Young (EY) follows four months of extensive community and stakeholder consultations across the Basin.

Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, said the report drew on other studies on the social and economic impacts of water efficiency measures, including the effects of off- and on-farm water infrastructure investment and water recovery programs.

“The EY study clearly acknowledges governments need to work with communities, irrigators and industry sectors to ensure that efficiency measures have neutral or positive social and economic outcomes—this is critical to better understanding the impacts of water efficiency measures,” he said.

“All Basin governments agreed to the plan, and I believe this report provides us with a pathway to delivering it.

“It identifies a range of off-farm and urban water efficiency measures which can safely deliver some water savings without negative social or economic impacts.

“I am keen to work with Basin states to begin implementing many of these efficiency measures within the next few months. We can lay out the pathway to do this when the Ministerial Council meets in April this year.”

The report also acknowledges that more work needs to be done to better understand and monitor the impacts of water efficiency measures.

Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association executive officer Zara Lowien said new approaches are needed so that water recovery doesn’t have a negative affect on local communities.

“In the experience of the Gwydir Valley, water recovery has had a direct impact on our local communities and for future recovery programs to not have a negative socio-economic impact, governments must learn from these experiences and seek new approaches, not already considered,” she said.

“The challenge will be finding ‘new’ projects that meet these criteria but the expanded scope into urban water management may be a solution where communities can benefit from more reliable and secure water supply, with savings generated to benefit the environment.”

Ms Lowien said the GVIA are disappointed that the outcomes of the Basin Plan continue to take a back seat to how many megalitres of water.  

“We should be focusing on how we effectively utilise the water we already have, as well as investigate projects that help us achieve more efficient environmental outcomes,” she said.

NFF Water Taskforce Les Gordon said it was crucial that Basin ministers committed to getting on with the job of putting the plan into action, in a manner that minimised the negative impact on communities and industries, many of which were already at tipping point.

“An implemented plan will provide farmers, our value adding processing industries and Basin communities, with the confidence to invest in the future,” Mr Gordon said.

“The Basin Plan is an historic compromise. While we are seeing the positive environmental outcomes that are achieved from the deployment of environmental water, it is important to note that increasing the environment’s share of water has come at a socio-economic cost for our Basin industries and communities.”

In relation to the on-farm recovery of water, Mr Gordon said the report suggests that water efficiency measures could have a net productive benefit to water users as reductions in future production are offset, as long as increased production is achieved in the short term.

“This is concerning as the broad view in the irrigation industry is that most of the easy gains to be made through water use efficiency have already been achieved in many parts of the Basin, with the ability to pursue water recovery through on-farm irrigation upgrade programs more difficult now than in the early stages of the Basin Plan,” he said. 

“With the real value of irrigated agriculture stagnating in the Basin since 2001, while the rest of the country has seen 11 per cent growth, short term gains may be unrealistic, putting at great risk the ability to achieve on-farm efficiency measures without negative socio-economic impact.”

The NFF's view on the recovery of the additional 450GL has always been clear: governments must ensure that a genuine approach, underpinned by a robust methodology, is in place.

"This approach must provide all stakeholders with the confidence that the 'neutral or improved social and economic outcomes' test of the plan can be met, and that the potential impacts of higher flows can be fairly managed,” Mr Gordon said.

“As is evidenced by the EY Report, the MDBA’s Basin Plan Evaluation 2017 and several other recent reports – a range of positive and adverse socio-economic impacts can result from the recovery of water.

"However, what we know as water users and what the detailed research published shows, is that additional water recovery – regardless of the recovery mechanism – will have significant adverse social and economic impacts on particular regions.

“We need a commitment from governments that the 450GL efficiency measures meet a realistic test for positive or no negative community impact prior to implementation.

“It is crucial that we continue the work required to thoroughly investigate the potential of water recovery through efficiency measures, region by region, project by project.”

Mr Gordon said the NFF encouraged the carrying out of a 'sense check' of the EY Report with Basin stakeholders.