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Irrigators stuck on 18%

Monique Paschke, The Murray Pioneer , Tuesday 17 March

South Australian water allocations will remain unchanged at 18% for irrigators, following record low inflows into the Murray-Darling Basin.

Minister for the River Murray Karlene Maywald said inflow conditions had significantly deteriorated since the end of last year, leading to yesterday's disappointing announcement.

"In February 2009, only 50GL of inflows were received to the basin, which is below the previous record low of 60GL in February 2007," Maywald said.

"During the past two months no basin state has received any improvements in the amount of water it can allocate from the River Murray shared resource and it is highly likely that inflows will be around minimum levels during March 2009."

Maywald said without consistent rainfall water allocation increases over the coming months were unlikely.

"Future improvements will be limited because of the extremely dry conditions currently being experienced across the Upper Murray system.

"Hume, Dartmouth, Lake Victoria and Menindee Lakes storages are currently at 16% capacity (1493GL) compared with the same time last year at 21% (1947GL) and the long-term average for this time of year of 57% (5300GL)."

Yesterday's announcement is a significant blow to the region's irrigators, who this time last year had access to 32% of their water allocation.

South Australian Murray Irrigators (SAMI) chairman Tim Whetstone said local irrigators would now need to reassess their position and consider entering the water market again.

"Well I guess (the announcement) is just reaffirming that there is no hope really for an increase in allocaiton with very little inflow," Whetstone said.

"I guess what it probably now highlights to irrigators is if they want to carry over water they are going to have to enter the water market again.

"It will also be putting pressure on those irrigators that are struggling. They have just got to reassess where they are going and it is really something they have to be doing month by month."

Whetstone — who is also the Liberal candidate for the 2010 state election — said the decision to leave water allocations at 18% would push many irrigators to their financial limits.

"There are a lot of people out there now that have burnt their cash, they have used their cash reserve and they are now out there using borrowed money," he said.

"This is putting added pressure on them and the only positive aside from that is that interest rates are dropping."

Despite the lack of water Whetstone has urged local irrigators to remain positive.

"I don't think (water allocations) will go up, but we have to be optimistic that we are going to get some rain, hopefully sooner than later," he said.

"We'd like to think that would impact on allocations this year."

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