Some New South Wales irrigators are urging the State Government to reconsider withdrawing from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Water Minister Niall Blair declared the plan “untenable” after the Senate last week blocked changes which would have provided another 70 gigalitres of water for irrigation communities in southern Queensland and northern NSW.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority estimates that decision could cost 180 jobs across 15 communities, with Moree accounting for nearly one third of those.

Despite that, some irrigators in Moree have told the ABC they do not want NSW to pull out of the plan.

One of them is Michael Seery. He sits on the board of the Gwydir Valley Irrigation Association, and is a partner in a cotton producing, processing and exporting business.

He said if the plan collapses, it will create only more uncertainty around water security, which will put in jeopardy the agricultural investment that keeps towns like Moree alive.

“People are already losing interest and moving away from the industry and communities in the area are dissolving,” he said.

Having a long-term water plan is critical when growing citrus fruits, according to Craig Estens who has overseen his uncle’s multi-million-dollar expansion away from cotton and into citrus.

“It takes two to three years to order your trees and get the rootstock and another two to three years before you see your first fruit,” he said.

The Estens family had to relinquish 45 per cent of its groundwater entitlements when the Commonwealth was buying back water for the environment, and decided to move into citrus because it returns about $1,200 per megalitre of water — up to six times more than cotton, he said.

Mr Estens said the family had invested heavily in improving water efficiency.

“In the past five to 10 years we have not used all of our entitlements. We’ve not seen many supplementary flows down the river,” he said.

“So if they’re worried in South Australia, it’s dry here as well which is probably why we’re not seeing much water head down the river systems.”

“We’ve already given up 27 per cent of our irrigation entitlement over the past few years to the environment, we’re not giving away any more,” Moree Plains Shire Mayor Katrina Humphries said.

“We can’t — we have industries that rely on it,” she said, adding the region was one of the most agriculturally productive in Australia.

“We’ve already taken a big brunt as we lost $300 million in water entitlements about seven or eight years ago.

“We’re not prepared to take another hit. It’s the uncertainty, it’s the frustration, the heartache, the social ramifications.”

Cr Humphries said she understands why the NSW Water Minister wants to walk away from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which she described as being “white-anted” from within.

But after all the time and money that has been invested in the plan, Cr Humphries said it would break her heart if it collapsed.

“The best way to solve the problems of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is for everyone to work together,” she said.

Source: ABC News. 17 Feb 2018

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