Farming and community groups across the NSW Murray region have come together to express outrage at a revelation that water will be piped from the Murray River to supply a new hydrogen plant in Whyalla.
At a time when South Australia keeps screaming that it needs more water for its environment, the groups say this week’s announcement reinforces that its priority appears to be getting as much cheap upstream water as possible, regardless of the national consequences.
The Murray Regional Strategy Group which represents numerous farming and community organisations in the NSW Murray, plus the Speak Up Campaign, which advocates for better water policy and management, joined forces and have called on federal and state water ministers to stop playing politics and start calling out the recalcitrant SA Government.
Amid reservations from SA conservation and farming groups, who questioned piping Murray River water nearly 400km for a new hydrogen plant, the SA Energy Minister explained this should not come as a shock because “almost every industrial purpose in South Australia takes water from the River Murray. It’s where we get all of our water from, so this would be no different.”
MRSG chair Geoff Moar explained that when the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was being developed, scientific evidence led to a recommendation that 2,750 gigalitres be recovered for environmental purposes. However, the SA Government demanded an additional 450 GL, despite concerns this could devastate upstream food bowls and their communities.
“In the end, for political reasons, the Federal Government bowed to the SA demands so it could get the Basin Plan signed. From day one there has been massive concern this was developed as a political plan, not an environmental plan. South Australia did not want extra water for its environment. It wanted a guaranteed, cheap water supply for Adelaide, Lower Lakes recreational needs, riverside canal-based housing developments and an expanded industrial base,” Mr Moar said.
Speak Up Chair Shelley Scoullar, a former Adelaide resident, said she is well aware of SA parochialism and, at a political level, a disregard for eastern states and their communities. She said the hydrogen plan was especially problematic, because although the SA Government says its water use will be minimal, there are increased warnings about potential water demands of these plants.
“In the next couple of months, federal and state water ministers are going to discuss a vital stage in Basin Plan implementation. The Albanese Government, represented at these meetings by Water Minister Tanya Plibersek, seems hellbent on using water buybacks to recover the additional 450 gigalitres, despite a truckload of evidence that doing so will decimate Australia’s food bowl across northern Victoria and southern NSW, destroy rural businesses and exacerbate the nation’s cost of living crisis by reducing food supply and therefore increasing prices on supermarket shelves.
“And apart from all this, it will be impossible to deliver all the water that SA wants for its recreation, industry and waterfront housing without severe flood risks, not just upstream, but also in South Australian riverside communities.
“We are asking: When is the SA Government going to be called out over its water use? Why does it refuse to effectively use a desalination plant that was built primarily with federal taxpayer funds, and when will South Australia be held to account and expected to treat water as a precious resource, like everyone else has to do?” Mrs Scoullar queried.
Mr Moar and Mrs Scoullar emphasised that in eastern states, every effort is being made to maximise every drop of water, whether for urban use, to sustain the environment or grow food with world’s best practice farming systems.
“It has become our way of life to use water wisely so we can protect the environment and our communities, while continuing to grow food for our nation and the world. Our governments must start demanding the same respect for water from South Australia,” they said.
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 1 June 2023.