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Rivers Drying Up as Minister Rockliff Refuses to Act

Andrea Dawkins

Andrea Dawkins  -  Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Tags: Irrigation, Water


After a visit to the north-east I was able to see firsthand the effects of the drought on the Little Forester River.  The farm beside the river had a dam overflowing and verdant pastures, but the river was a trickle.  What is being done to maintain the river's ecosystem, given there is endangered flora and fauna in the catchment and several varieties of fish spawn in the lower reaches?  The extended period of low rainfall is like a looking-glass into the future as the planet warms.  What decisions have been taken to plan for
dry springs in Tasmania as outlined in predictions in the Climate Futures for Tasmania project on the DPAC website?



Madam Speaker, I have to check whatever Ms Dawkins says very carefully.  I will look into Ms Dawkins' issue but I will be double-checking, given the Facebook posts of recent times.

There is no doubt, as Ms Dawkins has said, that we are in the grips of an abnormally dry season and in that context we have to balance and manage our resources as best as possible. 

Taking consideration of the economic factors in rural areas of Tasmania, the social consequences of an abnormally dry season are very much felt and, in terms of the three-legged stool approach, there must always be a sensible balance of natural resource management of the environment as well.

The Tasmanian water management system has been developed in relation to long-term hydrological conditions that prevail in most years.  This is an abnormally dry season and many farmers around the state are experiencing a great deal of difficulty.  In that respect we are unashamedly putting our farmers and rural communities first when it comes to these matters.

In normal seasons the Water Management Act works reasonably well.  However, the specific provisions have not been developed to manage the circumstances that occur in extremely dry years.  Strict implementation during such times would have unacceptable impacts on farmers and regional communities.  The Water Resource Management During Extreme Dry Conditions ministerial policy is under section 8 of the Water Management Act.  I encourage those opposite and Ms Dawkins to read that policy which has been available on the DPIPWE website for some time - it has been 10 days or so since I announced it.  It sets out procedures to be implemented during extreme dry conditions ensuring an appropriate balance between people, consumptive and environmental water needs.  

The policy simply directs how the provisions of the Water Management Act and water management plans more broadly are to be implemented.

It is important to look after people and farmers and rural communities.  This means that through an adaptive management approach farmers may be able to take water for irrigation at times when they would otherwise be prevented from doing so.  Taking into account a range of information, I have determined that extreme dry conditions are prevailing in Tasmania and hence the policy is now in operation.  It applies on a catchment-by-catchment basis, including the catchment referred to by Ms Dawkins. 

It is important to emphasise that this policy does not mean river systems can be drained of water for irrigation during these extremely dry conditions.  The taking of water must be consistent with the objectives of the Water Management Act and relevant statutory requirements, but also take into account the National Water Policy as well.  Critically, we must manage available water to meet essential human and animal welfare needs.  When this policy is in operation, farmers will not necessarily be able to take all the water they require for the full irrigation season.  However, it is important to note that farmers may be able to take water for longer than they might otherwise be able to.  It may be critical for their immediate needs, so they can support their farm businesses and families.

Farmers have invested very heavily and with governments in developing highly reliable, secure water supplies.  This irrigation season will, I believe, see the 10 tranche 1 irrigation schemes demonstrate their importance beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The water market has been operating in response to dry conditions with some farmers able to secure their water supplies through market transactions.  I wish to emphasise that this is a good thing - individual farmers using the water market to manage their water supply needs.  It is about sensible, natural resource management providing a very balanced approach between the economic, social and environmental factors.