Murrumbidgee Irrigation (MI) has been given $84.9 million for infrastructure upgrades by the Federal Government, but critics say it’s just another form of buybacks.
The funding under the Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators Program (PIIOP) was announced on Saturday by Assistant Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston and Member for Farrer Sussan Ley.
The program is an element of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, which was implemented to return water from irrigation and other consumptive uses to the environment. Water savings generated by off-farm infrastructure projects are shared between irrigators and the environment, with water savings transferred to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and used for environmental watering purposes.
Ms Ley said the project will see farmers across the network benefit from increased crop production thanks to more efficient and controllable water delivery.
“By reducing seepage and leakage in the network, this project will also generate almost 10 gigalitres in water savings that will be used to deliver environmental benefits for a healthy basin system,” she said.
“These savings will come solely from conveyance entitlements no longer required to cover network losses, without impacting the water entitlements of irrigators using the network.”
However, Griffith water spokesman Paul Pierotti said it was simply a “cruel and blunt instrument of water buybacks”.
“Any money that comes to the community is long overdue given the way we’ve been treated by the basin plan,” Mr Pierotti said. “When will we see real policy to support damaged basin communities?”
MI chief executive Brett Jones welcomed the funding and said it would improve the efficiency of water delivery.
“Our customers want value, and this funding will enable us to deliver water to them through a more efficient and responsive network,” he said. “The funding is key to improving farm productivity and crop yields that support the continued growth and prosperity of the area.”