$78,000,000 federal water buy breaks government commitment to no more purchases.
Sue Neales. The Australian. 22/6/17.
The future of the once mighty Darling River as a viable flowing river is at stake after the shock announcement last night that the vast Lake Tandou cotton and grain farm near Broken Hill was selling its irrigation water rights back to the federal government.
Australia’s biggest water holder, the Chris Corrigan-controlled Websters agricultural corporation, said it had entered into an agreement to sell the 21,901 megalitres of entitlements linked to its Lake Tandou property back to the commonwealth government.
The $78 million sale breaks the commitment by Deputy Prime Minister and federal Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce in March that there would be no more buybacks of water from farmers.
The deal will also see Lake Tandou — a fertile 13,000ha farm with its own airstrip, cotton processing gin and own water canals linked to the Menindee Lakes system — turned into a dryland organic sheep station.
Mr Joyce defended the water purchase as highly strategic and good value, despite the water costing $3561 a megalitre when comparable entitlements can be bought for less than $2000/ML.
The Deputy Prime Minister said the alternative was the failure or non-completion of the $10m 2012 Murray Darling Basin plan, which the public would not accept.
The Murray Darling plan prescribes for 2760 gigalitres or about 20 per cent of the irrigation water allocated to farmers in the basin to be “returned” or reallocated to the environment to preserve river health and the system’s ecology.
About 75 per cent of this water has been “saved” through direct water rights buybacks and improved irrigation, but has left many farming communities suffering massive economic and social loss.
With the biggest user now turned dry, locals fear there is no obligation for the Darling to be kept flowing below Bourke.
Mr Joyce said buying this large amount of water meant the Menindee Lakes no longer needed to be kept full and could be redesigned as water storages.
The NSW government has proposed allowing some of the five Menindee Lakes filled by the Darling River south of Wilcannia to be cut off from the river, with a new $500m pipeline linked to the Murray River 400km south to supply drinking water to Broken Hill.