THE NSW Government has been accused of not learning the lessons of the Wagga byelection result by stalling on releasing urgently required water for desperate farmers to finish winter crops.
Albury mayor Kevin Mack in his role as the Riverina and Murray joint organisation chairman has launched a scathing attack on federal and state MPs in the region including Sussan Ley and Greg Aplin for not doing enough to assist drought-affected communities.
“I would have thought that the results of the Wagga election clearly demonstrated that this state government is out of touch with regional areas and in particular with the existing crisis situation from a drought and water availability perspective,” Cr Mack said.
“We can see no reason why the federal government cannot permit the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to make available surplus environmental water for farm production purposes on grounds of extreme emergency, nor why the NSW Government cannot make available more of its environmental water to local farmers under strict sale conditions that will ensure more food and fodder is grown.
Cr Mack said the recent availability of 15,000 megalitres of environmental water by NSW simply wasn’t enough for famers who needed it most.
“The obvious problem with this announcement is that the amount of water on offer is totally inadequate and it is being offered through water traders on an unrestricted basis and at current water market prices,” he said..
Ms Ley said NSW held the key to short-term relief sought by farmers with two parcels of water presently sitting in storages including Lake Hume and Dartmouth which could be accessed after discussing the issue with Cr Mack late last week.
“The ball is pretty much in NSW’s court for the short-term relief to stop crops dying in the next fortnight” she said.
“The water is allocated for the environment, but not needed straight away.
“NSW could push for this environmental water to be released to irrigators.
“Anything would be welcome and an amount of 80 to 100 gigalitres would be incredibly useful.”
She said recent representations had been made to federal agriculture minister David Littleproud, MDBA and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, but she couldn’t deal directly with NSW water bureaucrats.
NSW environment minister Gabrielle Upton said it was “completely inaccurate” for Cr Mack to suggest the state government was not supporting drought-stricken farmers.
“The 15,000 megalitres of NSW environmental water is not surplus to requirements, but is being made available in recognition of the severe drought circumstances,” she said.
“This represents about 20 per cent of the Office of Environment and Heritage’s available tradable water within the Gwydir, Macquarie, Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray-Lower Darling valleys.
“OEH is using the balance of its available water to support areas of critical drought refuge for native fish, waterbirds and other fauna to help our important river and wetland environments recover when the drought does break.
“An additional 450 megalitres of groundwater will also be made available in the Riverina area.
“More water on the market can only provide a greater opportunity for more water users to finish off crops or grow more fodder.
“While OEH is making this water available through normal market processes, the proceeds from water sales will be used for drought assistance, including pest, weed and river health projects in local areas.”
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