The recent publication of tables estimating the levels of surface water recovery by the Murray Darling Basin Authority has uncovered a loss of water in the Warrego catchment much greater than anticipated.
It’s a discovery that has angered the mayor of the Paroo shire and brought a call for compensation for the loss of water and resulting opportunities for industry development.
According to Cr Lindsay Godfrey, 10.1 gigalitres has been bought back from a Cunnamulla irrigator to meet Northern Basin Review targets, much more than the 3GL first thought to have been surrendered.
“That’s a hell of a lot for us,” he said.
“Cotton takes 10ML a hectare – on a figure of $6000 a hectare gross, that’s equivalent to a loss of $6m to the community.”
The table also revealed the Queensland government had gifted 9.5GL, which Cr Lindsay understood was made up of two lots of 4GL set aside around 10 years ago for the Murweh and Paroo shires, which hadn’t been used.
The total 20.1GL recovery from the Warrego system amounts to 33 per cent of its allocation, much more than any other catchment has had to sacrifice, according to Cr Lindsay.
“This smells like a small shire in the west with limited political influence being taken to the cleaners,” he said.
“All the consultation we had told us there would be no effect on Cunnamulla, but this is pretty much shutting down the main irrigation in the Paroo shire.
“I’m asking the state and federal governments for compensation for our significant loss of income.”
He said council planning documents had relied on water as an important future industry to diversify the economy but now they were staring down the barrel of “being smashed”.
“The water left, below Cunnamulla, is very hard to transfer up and down, and very little of the water buyback would have found its way into the Darling.
“Our community is being hurt for no benefit and they are very apprehensive.
“We are a small shire with sustainability issues, and we identified water as an important source of future industry in our economic development plan.
“The Queensland Audit Office rated the Paroo shire as one of the three most unsustainable shires in the state.
“We’d identified industries to help but this is a big dampener to all that.”
Cr Godfrey was at pains to say he didn’t blame irrigators for selling their water in a commercial transaction, but he said comments that he should stay out of the debate weren’t realistic, when the community stood to be so affected by the outcome.
He was especially hurt that this appeared to be taking place because good catchment planning meant there was no over-allocation of water.
“This should mean there’s no reason to take any back,” he said.
He also said it had come as a shock, saying that representatives on the Northern Basin Regional Advisory Group had told him they had no idea that the Warrego catchment was ever part of recovery plans.
State and federal departments have been contacted for comment.