Thursday, 22nd September, 2011
By Craig Brealey
The Federal Government’s announcement yesterday that it will offer to buy $90 million worth of water from irrigators around the NSW-Queensland border was great news, according to local river campaigners.
Most of the irrigators in that region were cotton farmers and the extra water would be a boon for the Darling River, said Mark Hutton, chairman of the Darling River Action Group (DRAG).
“We are very, very happy,” Mr Hutton said.
“We’ve always supported buybacks. They are good value for money, and we are not talking government money; it’s taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
“It’s five to ten times cheaper to buy a water licence to return water to the river than to spent it on improving infrastructure such as covering open channels.
“They only buy from willing sellers - no-one’s forced to sell their allocations - and the buybacks have been strategic. That is, they don’t buy all the licences in one area because of the effect that would have on local communities.
“Buybacks are always over-subscribed. There are more people willing to sell than there are offers to buy.”
Federal Water Minister Tony Burke yesterday announced three new water purchasing tenders in the northern Murray-Darling Basin.
Two tenders for the Queensland Lower Balonne will open on September 26 and 14 November respectively. Up to $60 milllion will be made available for the purchases.
Another tender worth $30 million will open in the Namoi and Border rivers on October 17. Each tender will be open for four weeks.
Cubbie Station and the cotton-growing town of St George in Queensland are in the Condamine-Balonne river system and even if Cubbie was not willing to sell some of its water, there would be other cotton farmers in the region who would, Mr Hutton said.
He said the $90 million would buy about 90 gigalitres, based on the market price of about $1 million per gigalitre, he said.
“It’s all good for the Darling which tends to be a bit of a forgotten backwater at times. But if you keep up the pressure, these things can happen.
“We congratulate Tony Burke and the Federal Government on these buybacks.
“When we (DRAG) started ten years ago, there were no buybacks; no-one was talking about water.
“Since then there have been a lot of changes and things are starting to happen that we are very happy with. But we will keep plugging away.”
Mr Hutton also said he was glad to see water licences being bought at last from the northern basin because until now most of the buybacks had been from the Murray system in the south.
The Federal Water Minister said yesterday he was “determined” to see that the Murray-Darling Basin reform “delivered healthy rivers, strong communities and sustainable food production.
“The water purchased will be used to improve the health of Murray-Darling Basin rivers, wetlands and floodplains and will complement the Gillard Government’s major investments in more efficient irrigation water delivery and use,” Mr Burke said.
“The tenders are a step toward meeting the environmental watering needs of three
northern Basin catchments in the lead up to the release of the draft Basin Plan later this year.
“These water purchase tenders will take place in catchments where the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has indicated that further strategic water recovery will be required.”
The Lower Balonne, Border rivers and the Namoi catchments are connected to the Barwon-Darling system and purchases there could make a contribution to the downstream needs of the Barwon-Darling system, Mr Burke said.
“These tenders are about ensuring a regular, measured, market presence so the Government is in a position to purchase water when opportunities arise and people who wish to sell water to the Commonwealth can do so.”
The tenders are part of the Government’s $3.1 billion ‘Restoring the Balance in the Murray-Darling Basin’ program.
Mr Burke said the Government only bought water entitlements from irrigators who chose to offer water for sale. A sale proceeds only if the price is acceptable to both the buyer and the seller, he said.