With the entire state of New South Wales now in drought – and almost one-quarter classified as being in intense drought – NSW Minister Pru Goward has called for a “temporary change in water policy”, which would see environmental water entitlements sold to farmers to keep livestock alive.
Goward, whose Goulburn electorate encompasses rural farming areas, told Parliament last week, “with an unprecedented drought comes the need for unprecedented thinking”.
“Whilst we pride ourselves on our care for the environment, we must begin to investigate whether to immediately access environmental water flows for fodder crop production in the Southern Tablelands to keep breeding herds alive,” she said.
“The issue requires urgent consideration. To wait until the end of October to act will be too late for all of us.”
Goward warned a dry spring could decimate the state’s breeding herds and flocks, which would take farmers years to recover from.
“If there is no spring rain the solution will not be more fodder transport subsidies because there will be neither the fodder to transport or the stock to feed. Mental health supports and the waiving of fees and charges will not mean much to farmers who walk off their land,” she said.
“The answer is secure and reliable water for stock and crop production.”
Federal MP Sussan Ley has also called for environmental water to be allocated to farmers, suggesting in Parliament on Wednesday that farmers “borrow” existing environmental water to enhance winter crops.
“It is just plain ridiculous that, while crops are dying, farmers are seeing the water going straight past their farms on its way down to wherever it is allocated a long way from them or sitting in the storages, which are relatively full, waiting for the environmental allocation that’s required of it later on,” Ley said.
But the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) said balancing the needs of farmers and the environment during drought was difficult.
“The Basin Plan prepares us for dry times by ensuring that available water is shared across all water users, including irrigators and the river environment,” said MDBA Director of River Management Andrew Reynolds.
“When irrigators are short of water, environmental water holders are short of water too – they both have the same type of licences.”
The MDBA released its latest plan for the Murray recently, warning 2017-18 was one of the driest years on record.