The NSW nature conservation Council has dropped a bombshell with the release of two reports showing environmental damage and subsidies to the NSW irrigation industry amount to $700 million a year.

The report was prepared for the NCC by farm consultants, Hassall and Associates, which analysed 125 research reports and public information.

However, Hassalls has distanced itself from introductory comments attached to the documents. These were written by an associate of the NCC, Francis Grey.

Mr Grey put taxpayer support of the irrigation industry at $400 million a year and the cost of environmental degradation at about $300 million a year.

Director of the Total Environmental Centre, Geoff Angel, used the occasion to lecture irrigators over their "entrenched" positions, and urged them to improve their water use efficiency.

"The economy can no longer bear the environmental cost of irrigation," he said.

Chair of the Nature Conservation Council, Dr Judy Messer, said the reports showed the irrigation industry was the recipient of a "huge public payment".

"Irrigation is a major cause of problems such as non-dryland salinity, blue-green algal blooms, wetlands and fisheries degradation and stream bank erosion," Dr Messer said.

She said too much emphasis had been given to economic benefits of irrigation and not enough to the environmental costs.

The NCC was very supportive of the Government’s water reform initiative, and wanted to ensure the long term economic and ecological stability of rural areas.

The river management committees have been battling to reach consensus positions on water flow management to present to the Government.

But at least two valley committees – the Barwon-Darling and the Hunter – failed to do so by the target date of march 31.

The NSW Government set the committees a nominal target of an average 10 % reduction in irrigation allocations, and provided them with a set of indicative rules on water flow management.

The figure was a compromise between the desire for farmers for a lesser or no reduction and that of the environmental groups for a larger share of water in regulated rivers for environmental and ecological needs.

The NCC preamble to the report on taxpayer support of the industry says the documents indicate the irrigation industry has not been viable and has been a burden on taxpayers.

Costs, the NCC says, have not been factored into the price of irrigation water, include government expenditure on capital items, $28.8 million; water resources management, $18.4 million; and the subsidy gap between current water prices and cost recovery, $64.2 million.

The total cost of degradation and mitigation amounts to about $121million.

Costs of river degradation include irrigation related salinity at $77 million a year, damage to wetlands at $88 million a year, eutrophication (blue-green algae) costs $98 million, and loss of tourism at $44 million.


The above is a report from the NCC of NSW on irrigation in that state. Queensland is fast heading down the same road – that is if we are not already there. We need to be very aware of the costs to society of poor water management. Sunfish is very aware of the problems to the fishing industry caused by the building of dams to regulate river flow in this state. We need to be vigilant and watch the progress to the present "gung-ho" attitude of many of our bureaucrats in the water industry who have an agenda to create a dam on every river and to hell with the downstream effects on the fishery, and for that matter, on society as well.

There needs to be careful consideration of the costs of these dams, all economic factors need to be built into the costing, including fishways, environmental flows, downstream water needs for society, and nutrient flows on which the downstream fishery depend so heavily on to remain viable.

Part of that costing is the collecting the data of just what the downstream fishery is worth to this state and that is not just the commercial fishery. It needs to cost the damage to the recreational fishery as well. Those who do this costing will find the latter industry is worth much more than the commercial fishing industry and will affect many more stakeholders.

There is a much greater awareness by the general public on environmental issues nowadays, and that awareness is increasing daily. This government will do well to make some wise decisions with much better consultation with stakeholders than in the past. Its very future could well depend on it.


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