MIA irrigators and leaders have expressed anger at a “corrupt system” allowing for widespread misuse of Murray Darling Basin water exposed by ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday night.
The Four Corners episode alleged billions of litres of water earmarked for the environment is instead been used to irrigate cotton farms in northern NSW, while downstream communities suffer water shortages. It was suggested certain irrigators are acquiring water illegally – by tampering with water meters – while others are exploiting loopholes in the legislation.
Griffith mayor John Dal Broi said “it shows there is corruption with the whole Murray Darling Basin Plan… and its going to affect us down south if we allow it to continue”.
While the ABC took aim at “greedy” upstream irrigators who game the system to hoard and trade water, most we spoke to believe the finger should be pointed at governments who put in place the rules, regulations and compliance regimes allowing this to happen.
Veteran farmer John Bonetti said, “honest irrigators are paying the price for those who float the rules… the politicians and bureaucrats need to take a good look at the system they’ve created”.
Rice grower Debbie Buller also blamed water mismanagement, and questioned the ABC’s suggestion alleged water stealing in Barwon-Darling was linked to Broken Hill’s water supplies drying up.
“Barwon has zero influence on flows in the lower Murray Darling,” she said
Ms Buller said there’s no doubt irrigators who break the law should be fined, but said it’s likely far more water is misused due to politics and mismanagement.
Griffith business chamber president Paul Pierotti agreed there are bigger problems.
“The Four Corners story is a piddle in a puddle compared to what is wasted on the unquestioned lower lakes daily.”
Mr Pierotti said its time for a Basin Plan freeze and a royal commission, adding three previous inquiries have made little impact.
Horticultural farmer John Bisetto said what’s happening upstream is "disgraceful”, but thinks “nothing will change”.
“A big problem is that it’s so complicated it’s hard to get people to understand what’s going on”.
Cr Dino Zappacosta, who for years has worked with the Build More Dams Committee to find a way to secure more water for Griffith, said “it’s scandalous we’ve had to give up a lot of our water under the Basin plan while people upstream are able to use it willy nilly”.
Mr Zappacosta will be updating council on the committee’s work at their ordinary meeting on Tuesday.
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