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Swan Hill Rural City Council response to the Development of ...
Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 Swan Hill Rural City Council response to the Development of Sustainable Diversion limits for the Murray Darling Basin Issues paper Introduction Our Mallee communities understand the intrinsic nature of the Murray River. Any changes to water allocations will impact greatly on the diversity and prosperity of our region. Resilience is a key character of the Mallee community, and this has been clearly demonstrated by farming practices in this diverse landscape. Mallee communities accept the need to change, they must be provided with extensive transparent information. Only then will our community begin to understand and accept a new system of water management in the Murray Darling Basin. Swan Hill Rural City Council (SHRCC) is questioning the time lines allocated to this Basin Plan, whilst Council accepts there needs to be set parameters to ensure that the millstones are achieved. SHRCC is disappointed at the lack of stake holder and community notification of this important issue paper release Risk management has not been addressed in this issues paper. Risk management issues are clearly entwined though out the Basin Plan. Current integrated business practices consider risk management to be part of a holistic management process. Effective asset management applies a logical and systemic method of establishing an understanding the uncertainty or potential deviations from what is planned or expected (A/NZS 4360:2004). Water is a complex issue in the Murray Darling Basin (MDA) and any change to management requires extensive community consultation and engagement at all stages of the Basin Plan development. Completing the Basin Plan as such speed appears to be driven by government policy that will compromise the ability of the region to adapt to the changes. If this approach continues the process will be responsible for the direct and hard hitting impacts on our community without any time for people to adapt to the circumstances.’ Council has scoped our response around the questions asked in the paper and remind the MBDA the North West Victoria region will be significantly impacted by these proposed changes. And although we are typically resilient our communities require extensive consultation and engagement though out the development of this Basin Plan. SHRCC is asking the MDBA to remember we are a diverse community and all future documents must be in plain English and provided in templates that provide the opportunity for multilingual community’s access to translated documents. This will ensure all members of our community have the opportunity to understand and comment on these changes to their livelihood. Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 SHRCC responses to questions from the MDBA Issues paper: What are your views on the proposed approach to determining WRP areas as set out in this paper? (Water Resource Plans WRP areas) The Murray River is the state boundary between Victoria and NSW, historically these states have addressed water issues separately and often there has been a minimal whole Catchment approach to Riverine Landscape management. The Basin plan provides the opportunity review the current Catchment Management Authorities (CMA) processes. • The existing CMA’s are state based and their functions are duplicated, rationalising of resources and processes would result in improved Catchment management and a significant reduction in bureaucratic processes. • For example, explore the option of reviewing the Catchment Boundaries, and develop a federally administered Catchment Management Authority or similar for the whole of the Murray Darling Basin. • Projected reductions in water availability and allocation will have significant impacts on the Catchment. The WRPS with a whole catchments focus will provide the opportunity to review plan and implement initiatives to rationalise water use and gain the projected savings required. • The issues paper does not consider waterwise options to be a priority over a reduction in allocations. Changes to the allocation system will cause significant economic and social impacts, and should be considered as last resort. • Alternative options to this have already been demonstrated by the Victorian Government Water Savings initiatives, -The modernising and rationalisation of the distribution system. The Wimmera Mallee Pipeline and the Woorinen Irrigation District Restructure projects. These include renewal of old distribution infrastructure i.e. piping and lining of channels, with modern systems to save water and improve efficiency. • Rationalising the number of channels and infrastructure or modifying the level of service. The Northern Victorian Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP) is a great example of rationalisation and renewal. This is partially completed and the savings already achieved have been used to meet the Victorian Governments commitment to increasing environmental flows in the Living Murray Project and the Snowy River Water Recovery project. Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 The WRPS must provide the opportunity to implement similar water wise savings projects before SDL’s are determined. The NSW irrigation system upgrade is far behind Victoria and there are untapped significant savings to be captured with in the basin and the WRPS must identify and pursue these opportunities as a key objective. Do you have any suggestions you would like to provide to the MBDA in this regard The socio-economic impact of access (or lack of access) to water has an effect on communities on both sides of the borders. This is mainly applicable to Vic & NSW as the southern NSW municipalities rely heavily on the Victorian towns and cities as their main commercial base; i.e. Mildura with Wentworth Shire, Swan Hill & Gannawarra with Wakool and Balranald. The Victorian municipalities mentioned also rely on the economic input from the NSW towns / municipalities. • The Riverine towns in the Gannawarra, Campaspe, Wakool and Balranald and Moira Shires to be in decline regardless of the proposed changes to land use practices. Council is concerned reductions in allocation of water will be in direct contrast with the current State Government Policy Directives that strive to support the economic and sustainable development of Victorian Regional Communities. • Gillespie & DCA Economics (VEAC, 2006) support Council’s contention that at an individual level there will be a range of potential impacts resulting from the loss of employment for individuals and their families. They include financial impacts, reduced future work opportunities, and reduced participation in mainstream community life, strains in family relationships and intergenerational welfare dependency. • Similarly, the flow on effects to the value adding to the timber products industry has not been considered. This industry contributes over $900,000 million (RMCG, 2009) to the regional economy and provides valuable opportunities to diversify the community skills base and cannot be readily dismissed. • The adjacent NSW municipalities are also an important food source for Australian consumption and export. • The 2005-2006 annual gross value of agri- production was $2.2 Billion at farm gate; this represents 10% of national and 25% of NSW total agricultural production. The region produces a wide range of summer and winter grains, crops, fruit, vegetables horticulture, viticulture dairy and livestock (RAMROC ,2009) Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 • Furthermore a socio economic review RMCG (2009) of the Municipality Wakool NSW (adjacent to Swan Hill) identified the level of socio economic impact will be linked to the volume of water that may be removed from the region. Irrespective of how the water is lost there will be significant regional impacts through the loss of agricultural production and flow on losses to the regional economy. • Farm businesses that sell the water receive an injection of funds to help adjust to the changed circumstances. However, the flow-on impacts of a significant drop in the rural economy due to the loss of water will be pronounced but there is no adjustment support for those remaining in the region. • The current buy-pack proposals will see the area face a significant change over a couple of years that would, under normal circumstances, generally occur over a longer time frame. The CMCG, (2009) review considers that the surivability of the region is dependant on the ability of the community to implement changes in practices these would include: • Facilitate adaptation • Support Services to the community • Promotion and support to develop alternative enterprises, including higher value agriculture or industry to replace some the investment returns currently generated by irrigation water. • Partner agencies in the region reinforces the requirement for a high level of community consultation to occur upon release of the draft Basin Plan i.e. enabling adequate time for regions to digest and understand the plan, identify how it will impact on each of the regions and determine what the implications are. Extensive consultation and engagement must occur within all regions and be open to all levels of concern from industry, community and government to ensure that specific needs and regional issues are captured and incorporated into the determination of the SDLs. And each region develops a sense of ownership and commitment to the implementation of these plans. Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 What are your views on the proposed approach to treating interception activities as set out in this paper? Which interception activities are significant enough to be explicitly identified in the SDL provisions? The examples used in the document of forest plantations and farm dams have positive environmental impacts on regions and whilst not advocating these activities should be exempt from the SDL process, they need to have their positive impacts on the overall regional environment balance out the “significant impact” they may have on the Basin. • If we consider the climate change scenario, and the need to capture carbon using large scale plantings, such proposals will not be taken up as readily by landholders. There are considerable advantages to planting plantations, especially in previously cleared degraded land that if left would contribute to erosion and sediment runoff. The large scale clearing and dry land farming practices have impacted greatly on the fragile North West soils, the drying times are encouraging farmers to consider increasingly sustainable crops/plantations that minimise impact on the landscape. • This becomes a socio economic argument if Government Policy continues making staying on the land too difficult there will be increasing abandoned landholdings. Future carbon sequestration opportunities must be supported and encouraged not penalised by further prohibitive costs i.e. water access licenses. Irrigation district modernisation programs in Northern Victoria are returning considerable volumes of water to the Basin system. As this process achieves its targets the emphasis on interception activities can potentially be reduced. • There has been no mention of the urban setting and the potential impacts the Waster Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD). The townships along the Murray River System incorporate storm water retention basins, constructed wetland treatment systems, storm water capture and reuse, and aquifer storage. • The issues paper does not address these innovative water management techniques and the questions need to be addressed. Will these activities be in the future Basin Plan? And will they attract a license fee payment? The region has been proactive in installing many of these types of systems and now will be penalised for such innovation. Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 Council’s concern is by including these storm water systems in the SDL program innovation and motivation will be lost in future generations. What are your views on the proposed approach to optimising economic, social and environmental outcomes through SDL’s as set out in the paper? Whilst the main thrust of the document is of an environmental nature, the repeated acknowledgement of the socio – economic impact on regional and rural communities recognised as a genuine attempt to strike a balance. • It must also be stated again that any economic study needs to cross borders and that Local Government economic development units in all states would have data supporting the fact that we are all reliant on business patronage from communities across the border. The smaller towns in turn are also heavily dependant on the larger centers across the borders as their primary commercial centre. The proposed approach is the most balanced way to ensure that no one stakeholder is adversely affected ahead of another. • In the Mallee region there are thousands of hectares of irrigated permanent plantings of almonds, grapes, olives, avocadoes and citrus which require a reliable annual allocation to maintain productivity and continuity of those plantings. The recent dry period and the associated reduced water allocations have seen thousands of hectares of perennial crops taken out of production. This has had a significant impact on the socioeconomic health of the region. It is therefore important that the proposed SDL mechanisms take into account the need for reliable annual allocations to support these industries. • Tourism is a major industry for this region, which has not received much attention in the SDL issues literature. Any potential negative economic impacts resulting from the Basin Plan will need to be taken into account. What is the best way to maximise input from particular communities of interest in the time available? There are many forums that facilitate discussion across regions of municipalities in Victoria and NSW. The Murray River group of Councils and the NSW equivalent (RAMROC) is an opportunity to allow Mayors and CEO’s from the entire region to enter the discussions at the same forum. • Councils and Shires that neighbour each other in NSW and Victoria regularly meet to discuss cross border issues and how to best assist each other in various matters of mutual concern (e.g. river crossing upgrades, Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 health care, transport/freight and environmental issues) these forums could also be used as vehicle for communicating. • Water Services Committees and various irrigation modernisation committees also need to be involved in the process as they represent a significant number of, and a cross section of the various stakeholders such as Torrumbarry Reconfiguration Asset Modernisation Scheme (TRAMS) and the Torrumbarry Irrigation District Water Services Committee • Future community engagement plans and activities must take account of the health and wellbeing of communities and individuals alike. Particularly in the context of the difficulties and stresses people are under due to a combination of factors associated with climatic driven water availability and market conditions. Ad a seemly endless change management process driven by government at all levels. Communication plans must be developed to the highest possible standard with clear and consistent messages being delivered by all agencies involved in the Basin Plan development and implementation. Do you have any suggestions you would like to provide to the MBDA in this regard? All Councils and Shires are producing or have produced community plans across their respective municipalities and the regular gathering of interested community members could be utilised as an opportunity to communicate with sections of affected communities. • By utilising the resources available within Councils and Shires to contact and assemble sections of communities at forums such as community planning meetings and water services committees etc, but do not expect Councils and Shires to be the communicator. The message being provided to communities must come from the MDBA. Examples of Successful engagement strategies • The Mallee environmental watering program instigated at a time of full irrigation allocation generated wide spread community support as demonstrated by significant donations of water by the irrigation community. • When stage 4 water restrictions were enforced, concern and anxiety within the Mallee community followed. There were misconceptions surrounding Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 environmental entitlements, the governing rules and rights and how this influenced irrigation entitlements. This contributed to negative media attention, frustration from the irrigation community and vandalism of environmental water delivery infrastructure. • Extensive community engagement has been carried out over the last few years to gain support and acceptance of the environmental watering program on the founding principle that environmental entitlements were governed by the same rules and rights as other consumptive users. Success of this program is due to the same treatment of environmental water and irrigation water for seasonal allocation. • Slowly the North West communities have developed a sense of ownership and empowerment surrounding environmental water. As a result Mallee CMA has been able to sustain an active water donation program with local irrigators during the dry times. • The Basin Plan proposes to treat the environmental share of the Basin water resource differently to other forms of diversion. • The Victorian water model states equal rules for environmental entitlements (treated as a consumptive user) as to other users. Over time, this model has generated understanding and respect from the community Council is concerned such a command approach will jeopardise the community support that has been built over time, by altering the foundations that underpin the relationship – equality for all consumptive users. SHRCC engaging the community SHRCC has worked extensively with the community to engage our community, Gone are the days of “telling” the community what will be happening. The engagement process has included developing a transparent and open organisation that has a proven record of listening and working for the community This has been achieved by extensive use of media, developing and supporting focus groups in urban and rural townships. SHRCC proven engagement techniques include: • Media Release - Summaries detailing what is in the regional WRP. Use plain English and the key multicultural languages of the community. To be published in the local papers Sentinel, Guardian, DSE Magazines Dry land and Horticultural Farmers editions. Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 • Providing invitations to attend a Community Forums in Swan Hill and or Robinvale. MDBA must implement best practice interactive community engagement techniques; provide an opportunity for the community to be heard. • To maximise attendance provide: transport, meals and accommodation for key community stakeholders to attend. The Community Representative Groups are also another avenue to disperse information to remote rural and urban centers. • The MDBA must remember the changes to entitlements will have considerable impacts on our resilient communities. Taking the MDBA communities on the journey explaining the each step and listening to their perceptions of what is the best way to manage this delicate bioregion, will ultimately result cohesive support of change. Council strongly suggests that the Basin Plan consider maintaining and developing further the strong existing community relationships which are based on involvement and understanding of water management systems. What are your views on the proposed approach for dealing with surface water – groundwater connectivity as set out in the paper? The approach to set separate SDL’s for groundwater and surface water appears to be the most suitable way to ensure that quantities / volumes are not double accounted. • The issues paper concentrates primarily on rural surface water movements and the potential capture of these volumes. It needs to capture potential volumes that are generated from urban run off in larger rural centres and harvested for re-use. In some circumstances these volumes are significant and have a bearing on the figures stated in the section titled rainfall and hydrology (3.1.2). There is a concern of the simplistic approach proposed to determine which interception activities could have a significant impact on the Basin resources Do you have any suggestions you would like to provide to the MDBA in this regard? There is potential for the approach described for determining the level of ‘take’ to unfairly bias those who have meters where the level of take can be quantified. The Basin Plan needs to clarify how these categories of interception that are not currently metered or measured (for example Authorised interception of Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 floodplains or stock and domestic farm dams) will be quantified and monitored particularly those that are currently unmetered or unregulated. • The North West farmers are committed to longterm farming success by protecting the fragile soils of the region. This is demonstrated by the implementation of sustainable land management systems: these include stubble retention, improved vegetative cover and mulching. These systems increase the level of water interception and retention to prevent soil erosion and rising saline groundwater tables. • The land management systems of the MDB include extensive revegetation (afforestation) activities. Extensive plantations and protection of remnants patches have been incrementally increasing over the last decade. Providing environmental benefits such as improving biodiversity values, fixation of carbon reduced soil erosion and reduced groundwater accession. This is particularly important in regions like the Mallee where annual evaporation is up to seven times greater than rainfall. • The test of significance should also consider the evaporation rates within various regions as those with high evaporation rates has minimal contribution to groundwater recharge or surface water run-off, thereby minimising the significance of interception. SHRCC strongly appose the inclusion of perennial plantings (such as orchard and vineyards) may also be considered as another form of afforestation with ‘incidental interception’. If this was to be the case, irrigators may be required to hold two forms of water access licenses and SHRCC considers this double accounting. What are your views on the proposed approach to setting and expressing SDL’s as set out in this paper? It is a particularly complex issue which the discussion paper acknowledges will require more detailed consideration with stakeholders to refine the process. Council currently is not in a position to comment on the proposed approach as it would require substantially more time than is available, to study and discuss the process to assist in making an informed comment. Do you have any suggestions you would like to provide to the MBDA in this regard? In the North West region, as described in the CSIRO Sustainable Yields Project, highlights the convoluted approach required when you consider the legislative application and management of water extraction and use. Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 • This is further exasperated by the fact that the MDB Catchment includes three states, Victoria New South Wales and South Australia. • MDBA needs to clearly identify the institutional arrangements that will be required for the interaction of each of the zones and the management of the SDLs especially when the implementation of their respective WRP is staggered from 2011 to 2019 (Victoria). • This is an exceptionally long implementation period, and there needs to be specific measures to determine the impacts of the plan on economic and social wellbeing for each region. SHRCC considers MDBA should conduct quarterly reviews ranging from broad scale to a local scale. Using well researched current data set, will demonstrate an understanding of the regions dynamics. For example the need for water security during the irrigation season any changes to availabity will impact on industry and our communities become evident. Conclusion In conclusion Swan Hill Rural City Council thanks MDBA for the opportunity to provide comment on this important issues paper. The Murray River is the life blood of this region. Council and the community wish to remind the MDBA of the significant consequences this Basin Plan will have on our region. Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 References A/NZS (2004) Australian & New Zealand Risk Management Standards A/NZS 4360:2004. Gillespie & DCA Economics (2006) VEAC, River Red Gum Forests Investigation, Discussion Paper, October 2006. Moor, T. & Nichol M, (2006), Economic Contributions of the Timber and Related Vale adding Industries to the North Central Murray Area, Latrobe University Economic Development unit Bendigo, Victoria. NRSWS, (2009), Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy, Victorian Government, DSE, 2009. RMCG, (2009), Socio-Economic Impacts: Closure of Wakool Irrigation District (or parts thereof) Final Report, RMCG Consultants for Business Community and Environment. Bendigo. Victoria. RAMROC, (2009), Riverine And Murray Regional Organisations of Councils, www.ramroc.org.au/home/index.htm Murray Darling Basin Authority Issues Paper –Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits MDB 2009 Appendix 1 Remplan impacts on regional employment North central Murray
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