Narrandera Shire Council has waded into the water debate and will throw its weight behind calls by regional councils for national water policy reform.
The action comes in the same week as the Morrison government announced a Productivity Commission inquiry into national water policy.
Council resolved to write to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Premier John Barilaro, Water Minister Melinda Pavey, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Riverina and Murray Joint Organisation to express concern over the allocation of water in the southern Murray Darling Basin.
Council also resolved to write to surrounding councils affected by the situation to seek their support.
The motion drew much debate at the May meeting, with councillors divided over the issue over the original wording of seeking an emergency allocation of water for food and fodder production.
Cr Jenny Clarke said the motion was aimed at supporting farmers brought to their knees by the lack of water and southern Riverina farmers with zero allocation for the past three years.
“NSW has once again been deprived of the NSW Murray water this year – what I find deplorable is this water is being allowed by bureaucrats to flow into South Australia for their irrigation, to fill their huge recreation lake and then out to sea,” Cr Clarke said. “Investment in Murray Darling Basin water without irrigable land should be banned. The only way this issue will be solved is through greater transparency of the ownership of the water, and how much is owned by foreigners.
“This year we are importing 90 per cent of our rice. I encourage all councils affected by this policy to give support to the action undertaken by Murray MP Helen Dalton in calling for a Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin water.
“The bureaucrats continuing to deny these producers in NSW any water is totally unacceptable – it is crippling local business and harming local communities.”
Cr Clarke said the politicians must take up the fight to protect the regional areas.
Narrandera Mayor Neville Kschenka said the issue was raised at the recent Riverina and Murray Joint Organisation meeting and referred to the RAMJO water committee.
“A similar motion put forward by the Leeton Council was lost so my concern is we will get the same result,” he said.
Mayor Kschenka suggested the Council express concern but was not in the position to ask the government to provide water.
Deputy Mayor David Fahey said the Food and Fodder allocation had been over-subscribed.
“Unfortunately, as water is on the open market it goes to the highest bidder, and there is no guarantee food or fodder would actually be produced,” Cr Fahey said. “In our area, we have two per cent of the LGA as irrigators – with the recent rainfall and speaking to some farmers it is an optimistic outlook.
“If we do write a letter to these parties we have to be much more specific.
“RAMJO should be one of the entities advocating on our behalf because it does take our member councils in the irrigation areas, and our neighbours, to result in a bigger boot to kick on the door.
“We can advocate for our local residents but it is such a complex, large and regional issue it should be left to RAMJO to identify all the issues and then lobby the appropriate people.”
RAMJO resolved at its November meeting to use its Water Position paper to advocate across the NSW Legislative Assembly Committee on Investment, Industry and Regional Development inquiry into drought affected communities, and the ACCC inquiry into markets for tradeable water rights in the Murray Darling Basin.
Narrandera general manager George Cowan said RAMJO had adopted a position along the lines of all users of the water have equal rights.
Mr Cowan said the Leeton Council resolution was rejected as it was based on a water guarantee for rice growers only.
“The councils to the south with other uses for the water felt compromised by that,” he said.
Cr Kevin Morris advocated for an inquiry into carryover water held by speculative investors.