Farmers sold down river

FLOODPLAIN farmers between Albury and Mulwala are outraged by the South Australian Premier’s claims they are ruining the Murray River’s environment.

Jay Weatherill said farmers worried about flood damage from increased river flows did not deserve compensation.

He said that, historically, they had taken too much water from the system, damaging it in the process.

Murray River Action Group chairman Ian Lobban said Mr Weatherill’s comments were totally without foundation.

“The Murray Darling Basin Authority draft plan has been driven all along by South Australia,” he said.

“They’re so far removed from understanding all the conditions and the impact the plan will have in the upper reaches.”

Mr Lobban said it was a real shame people making such statements did not do their homework “to understand the facts and get it right”.

“They’ve got absolutely no knowledge of the impacts up here or the restraints in the channel capacity to take increased volumes,” he said.

New modelling suggests lifting the amount of water for the environment to 3200 gigalitres a year could improve the health of the basin’s wetlands and floodplains.

South Australia has said it will take High Court action if that figure is not in the federal government’s final plan when it is produced this month.

But Mr Lobban said lifting environmental flows above channel capacity between Albury and Mulwala would cause tree losses and erode banks.

He said landholders from Lake Hume and Lake Mulwala had spent a lot of money in the past decade stabilising and revegetating river banks.

They were determined to improve the health of the river and ensure its sustainability.

“The increased flows these people are talking about can only destroy the money and the work that’s already been done,” Mr Lobban said.

“They’d probably have a better understanding if they came up and saw what we’re doing to improve the river.”

Mr Lobban said not talking to “the people on the ground” had been a problem since formulation of the plan began.

“What angers me with Mr Weatherill’s comments about not being entitled to compensation is he’s accusing us of degrading the river,” he said.

“That is absolutely absurd because, up here in this reach, very few people irrigate or take water from the river — they’re dryland farmers.”

Chief executive with Southern Riverina Irrigators Louise Burge said Mr Weatherill’s comments just added to a “long list of inaccuracies” in the draft plan.