South Australian Murray Irrigators

There could be enough water to save us

News this week that Queensland irrigators diverted a record 1014 gigaltires from the Murray Darling Basin over the past year has angered South Australian Murray Irrigators.

SAMI chairman Tim Whetstone said today the report further highlighted the lack of real leadership on water management in this country.

He said drought stricken South Australian irrigators had received a record low allocation of 176 gigalitres for the same period.

“How many examples do we have to give before the penny drops at a State and Federal level?

“Water is the most precious resource in the country right now and we have people helping themselves to as much as they like while others further downstream face ruin.

“This type of behaviour is un-Australian. This isn’t giving anyone a fair go except those taking the water. The economic and environmental fall-out of strangling river systems by privately diverting massive amounts of water cannot be under-estimated. It has clearly been happening for many years now and, despite supposed caps on development, the governments are turning a blind eye.

“As South Australians we rely on everyone upstream being responsible citizens and playing by the rules. Clearly, there are no rules or ramifications for those who wish to harvest water that, by rights, should be flowing right through the system.”

Mr Whetstone said urgent action needed to be taken to stop huge diversions.

“Everyone in the basin should be on the same system. You get an allocation, the environment has an allocation and we work together in a sustainable way.”

Mr Whetstone said the plight of the lower lakes and its people will engulf many more communities upstream in South Australia unless the State Government declares a state of emergency.

“We have a river on its knees, we have thousands of families who will run out of water next month and we get news this week that water that could have potentially saved us all is being diverted into huge private dams in Queensland.

“The Prime Minister and our Premier are not showing leadership by saying they can’t make it rain. What this report shows is that they don’t need to, they need to take control and stop cowboys draining rivers that belong to everyone. 

“They need get fair dinkum about addressing the biggest economic and environmental disaster to hit this country since the depression.

“The Federal Government needs to empower an independent controlling body to fairly manage water resources across the basin – not in two years, not in 12 months, but as soon as next month.”

Mr Whetstone said SAMI would next week unveil a basin-wide survival plan to protect permanent plantings and provide a viable exit package for irrigators who have had enough.

“We have State and Federal governments making policy on the run. They need to sit down with those of us who know what we are talking about and discover the resolve to implement the type of action that will have an immediate, positive impact on many, many river communities across the basin.”



The Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water reports that their State’s irrigators took a record 1.014 million megalitres from the Murray Darling Basin system in 2007-08.

This is the largest amount Queensland has diverted from the system in one year and significantly more than the previous record of 815ML set in 2003-04.

While the Queensland irrigators switched on their pumps, SA irrigators eventually received a 32% allocation for the same period.


Regional communities should recognise grower “heroes”

A prominent Riverland winegrape grower has said there needs to be a cultural shift to recognise farmers who choose to walk off the land.


Moorook winegrape and citrus grower Sheridan Alm has dubbed irrigators who decide to leave the industry as heroes.


Ms Alm will give advice to winegrape growers about how to best plan for the upcoming season at Some Like It Hot, the wine industry’s premier conference for warm climate regions, to be held at the Chaffey Theatre in Renmark on November 6.


“A lot of assistance with social restructure is necessary. It would be best to acknowledge that growers who decide to sell their water are making a very noble decision to exit the industry right now, it should not be seen that you’ve failed and are copping out,” she said.


“The irrigators that decide to exit would be doing their neighbours and the river such a huge favour and they should be on the front page of the newspaper. Our community must support these people positively – there will be new opportunities for these families in the Riverland. The catch is that this favour deserves greater financial reward than is currently on offer.


“Unfortunately, Australian farmers are portrayed as people who can just keep battling on through anything. It’s definitely a social issue.”


Ms Alm said now is the time for winegrape growers to make some tough decisions about the upcoming season – including deciding what varieties to irrigate – to ensure they can survive the irrigation drought.


“I would be strongly recommending that we’re not going to see a way out of this drought in the short term and my experiences in trying to get by on less water haven’t been successful. It’s just better to use the required amount of water to grow a good crop and keep your customers happy,” she said.


“Trying to get by with limited water just does ongoing damage to the vineyard and you’re spending money while you’re degrading your asset. You might as well stop irrigating the less profitable areas and keep your hands in your pockets.”


Ms Alm said she felt relieved after making the decision to stop irrigating over 10ha of less profitable areas before the 2007 season. “If you have done the planning you can see the benefits in your financial and water budgets,” she said




Ms Alm encouraged growers to develop a flexible water budget that allows them to be aware of how they will purchase water at different trigger points throughout the season, using the early predictions as a guide.


“It is good to have a few things sorted out going into the season so that during the season you can act quickly and concentrate on growing the grapes,” she said. “I think it’s important that people make the decision now whether they are in or they’re out.


“While I may have a few pessimistic things to say, I am still very optimistic that if everything falls into place as we hope it will, with regards to the timing of water buyback and the roll out of the Murray Darling Basin Agreement, we will come out the other end.


“We have to remain positive, but at the same time make well informed decisions.”

Tim Whetstone’s ‘Tiser response

Below are Tim Whetstone’s full responses to the questions posed by the Advertiser for today’s Save the Murray special. This response, as well as the views of 15 other water management experts, can be found on the AdelaideNow website.

1. What emergency measures need to be taken in the next year, no matter how severe, to correct the rapid deterioration in the condition of the river?

 Release Menindee Lakes water now.

Talk that this would be a waste is just ludicrous. Saving this water for critical urban needs next summer will be too late for everyone. If the water is left in Menindee until summer, it will be lost to evaporation. You either get the water now or miss out altogether. It’s a bit like a Boxing Day sale, it won’t be available in January. We have to release the water at the time when it can do the most good.

All South Australians will benefit from an immediate flush of water from Menindee.

Adelaide’s reservoirs can be topped up and the environment and food producers can also gain much needed water security.

The Federal Minister also needs to take immediate control and declare a state emergency. Permanent plantings needs to be given priority to survive what is looming as the toughest summer on record. Without this urgent action the nation’s $9 billion food bowl could turn to dust.


2. Are State/Federal and local governments implementing the correct policy decisions (and quickly enough) to secure the future of the River?

No! If words were water we would have record floods! The $3.7B announced last week is over half of the $6.5B allowed for infrastructure upgrades. Not one drop of saved water will be delivered to the river or the beneficiaries of these projects in the next two years.  

We need to reduce the amount of all allocations in a once off process this year! Ten years of Minister Wong’s buy back plan is doing nothing for our system – when it most needs help.

Leadership on this front is so tentative that we feel hung out to dry. It is akin to dying a death by a thousand cuts.

In the face of the worst drought in our history, government should be responding at a far greater pace.

The losses to the economy and our communities are made much larger because there is no early intervention. EC and Exit grants are continuing to fail in delivering fair solutions. These programs have not made the transition from broad acre climate relief to horticulture because of a bureaucratic or political inability to accept the differences in our businesses.

Spending many millions reinvigorating Riverland irrigation systems will not solve anything in the short term. Riverland irrigators are in the main already the most efficient irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin.


3.       Are any aspects of the environmental condition of the river irreversible?

The Lower Lakes are on the brink of collapse and so are the people who rely on it. Based on the latest scientific evidence, the clock is ticking and unless we get short term solutions to save the river, we will have a long term disaster.


4.       What are the greatest threats and impediments to the campaign to save the river from governmental, community and personal behaviour levels?

a. A governmental level it is a distinct lack of leadership to make the decisions required. States still have too much power. All the tributaries to the MDB should be included under the new Murray Darling Basin Authority.

                                                                           i.      Farm dams, forestry (including carbon sequestration plantations) and salt interception schemes are water users that should be assessed as such and required to purchase the water they use. This matter has been known for some time and should have been signed off at COAG!


b.       Community – The level of understanding of water management within the MDB is very high. The options for state governments to take cheap water from the MDB to satisfy urban demands is not sustainable is our cities continue to grow. A greater understanding of the benefits retaining water from catchments on the city side of the ranges as well as implementing wide scale wastewater recycling, stormwater harvesting and desalination needs to be achieved.

c.        Personal – Domestic water should be charged for at flat rate, without a supply charge. Low water users and low income households would see a negligible increase and high users and high income households would see larger increases. If people were given more information about opportunities to save water they will force governments to act more ethically!

5.       What are the most significant misunderstandings about the future of the system which need to be overcome?

Without the food producers of the Murray Darling Basin, consumers run the risk of  buying imported food that may not meet the current quality and safety standards demanded of locally grown produce. I do not think there are too many misunderstandings about the future of our system – simply a lack of the courage to act by our leaders!


6.       Taking each segment of the catchment areas from north to south, what land use changes or changes in attitude need to be made to ensure the continued survival of the system?

The health of the river system has become a bigger priority right across the basin. The over allocation of water licenses is the biggest impediment in rehabilitating the system across four states. Areas of the basin that have reached a point of critical saline degradation need to be taken out of production and those stakeholders adequately compensated.


7.       In a perfect world, without having to balance the competing demands on the source, what steps would you initiate that would guarantee the survival of the river?

Place the entire basin under the control of one national authority and re-issue  sustainable levels of environmental and irrigation allocations to ensure all Australians continued to be supplied with safe, high quality food, the River Murray remained healthy and its communities flourished long into the future. Explore new technologies that are already being used in places such as Israel to reduce our dependence on the river and place a much greater emphasis on recycling all water used in society – ie: stormwater and waste water.


8.       What actions by individuals should be taken in the home, the workplace or the community to help save the Murray?

Everyone should be accountable for the water they use. Our most precious resource is running dangerously low and has been taken for granted for too long. The new age irrigator recognizes the benefits of being as efficient with water as possible and would like to see those same philosophies embraced.





Save the Murray

Tomorrow’s Advertiser (August 1) will feature a range of articles on the Murray River, including comments by SAMI chairman Tim Whetstone.

Follow the link to the ‘Tiser’s online Save the Murray feature to have your say, read comments from 16 of Australia’s water management experts and see photos of the river.

Tim will also be speaking at tomorrow’s Save the Murray rally on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide.

Wine industry conference

How grape growers can survive in the short and long term will be the key focus of a day-long seminar at Renmark later this year.

Organisers of the annual Some Like It Hot seminar on November 6 have organised a star-studded list of guest speakers to give a health check on the future of the Riverland wine industry.

Climate change, international exports and the River Murray will come under the spotlight at the seminar, which will be held at Renmark’s Chaffey Theatre.

Wine industry environmental expert Amy Russell, SA’s leading water policy expert Professor Mike Young and Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation information manager Lawrie Stanford are among the guest speakers confirmed for the event.

Some Like It Hot is widely regarded as one of the country’s premium seminars focussed on warm climate irrigated wine regions.

“The timing of the event could not be better. By November we will have a much better idea of where we all stand in relation to water supply,” said Riverland Wine Industry Development Council executive officer Cameron Hills.

“In difficult times it is important for growers to make informed decisions and on that basis alone, no one can afford to miss out on the range of information that will be provided at this seminar.

“The high Australian dollar, drought and water restrictions mean this is a turbulent time for the local industry and it is imperative individuals are armed with high quality information.”

Discussions at the 2008 event will include an industry update, corporate perspective and what is sure to be a heated discussion on climate change.

“Networking is also a big part of this event, which has been lauded as one of the major wine industry events in the State,” Cameron said.

To register for Some Like It Hot visit Early bird prices are just $35 and credit card payment is available for the first time.

Releasing water from Menindee Lakes

Click here to view a report from yesterday’s North Queensland Register and Queensland Country Life regarding Goolwa’s plea for water to be released from Menindee Lakes to flush the Murray Mouth.

See SAMI’s latest release on this issue here.

International water restrictions
July 29, 2008, 11:58 am
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A recent blog about domestic water restrictions in San Diego