No “Next Year” for Farm Water

Sept. 24, 2007

If you think the rivalry between Victoria and South Australia over football seems like life or death, then think about water.

Rains needed to avoid the severest cuts to farmers' allocations within the Murray-Darling system have now arrived. Victorian and NSW farmers along the Murray live the bleak reality of allocations of 10 per cent or less, with $8 billion of permanent crops starting to die.

If good rains do not fall very soon, agriculture faces a cataclysm. The Howard Government, with Opposition support, has announced $430 million in extra help on top of $2.6 billion so far; Prime Minister John Howard has given priority to a Murray water reserve, primarily for Adelaide.

These Adelaide supplies are for next summer but record low inflows mean the worst-case scenario for farmers further up the river is almost here.

Unsurprisingly, all Victorian political leaders rejected Mr Howard's call.

South Australia has lagged behind on water planning, failing to build a new dam.

Adelaide still relies on the Murray. Adelaide residents use 286 litres a person a day, far more than Melburnians.

It took until this month for SA Premier Mike Rann to make a rushed pledge to build a $1.4 billion desalination plant, plus spend $850 million to double the capacity of Mt Bold reservoir near Adelaide.

Victoria is ahead of SA in planning.

But this may also be Premier John Brumby's biggest challenge in balancing his promised consultation and decisiveness.

The 200 billion litres of salt waste a Wonthaggi desalination plant would pump into the sea each year makes an environmental effects statement seem necessary.

This consultation, however, may delay the building of the plant beyond 2011.

Source: Herald-Sun (Australia)