Editorial: Fine balance in long-term future of water

As the rain keeps falling in Bendigo it can be hard to think about some of the big issues affecting our country and how much of that long-term future viability will depend on careful and visionary thinking on water use.  

The latest mutation of the decades-long impasse on how water from Australia’s largest river system should be used has come in the form of an economic impact report and has sounded another warning on the irrigation industry’s fate.

The recent report, examining the future of water-dependent farming in areas in northern Victoria, warns of 2000 jobs being lost and $4.4 billion in annual production losses. 

Given this is one of the major food producing areas in Victoria it raises the question: without this water supply where would the produce come from?

You don’t have to have too long a memory to realise how badly the millennial drought hit the entire system.

The Loddon was one of the hardest hit. 

Allocations were reduced to zero and many farmers sold entitlements or walked away. 

The period was a dire warning that water is still the most fundamental commodity people will fight over in this arid land.

Killing the river by over extracting up stream had enormous impacts environmentally but also on downstream communities. 

The water is joyously flowing again, but these dark years should be lessons to guide an enlightened future.

We simply cannot go back to the way things were.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has so far failed to reconcile the important long-term balance between the important environmental flows that keep a river alive and the multiple communities that rely on it for a livelihood.

One school of thought argues there are areas that may never have been suited to irrigation farming and there is a need to adapt and transform them into other profitable food production.  

The there is also the case for on-farm efficiencies so the same water goes further, but these upgrades are expensive.

Given the scale of the impacts there needs to be a big picture approach taken to the fallout from the basin plan. 

Hopefully over time it would also permit the best ideas for water saving to be disseminated and implemented.

We will need it one day.


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