Water Minister calls for more storage, innovation

There are enormous opportunities to build capacity in Australian water infrastructure but innovation is needed to maximise the agricultural returns of that investment, says Federal Water Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Barnaby Joyce

"Water is wealth and stored water is a bank,” he told the Australian Water Association. 

"It’s vitally important therefore that our water infrastructure, in terms of storage and irrigation capacity, keeps pace with the needs of the nation, including farmers, industry and regional communities and the cities. 

"If no new dams are built in the future, Australia's water storage capacity will fall to 2.6ML per person by 2050. This is a serious issue for us all.”

Joyce, who was granted the water portfolio in addition to agriculture in the aftermath of Turnbull’s ascension to the prime ministership, said investment in agriculture, such as the $500 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, was essential for the health of not only the agricultural sector, but of the wider environment.

"Our government is investing over $2.5 million per day to 2019 in the future sustainability of irrigated agriculture. This is our commitment to our environment and communities in the basin. With the increased efficiency, water savings are able to be recovered for the environment to deliver water to wetlands and environmental assets throughout the basin,” he said.

"I have long understood that productive use of natural resources for economic growth and development can coexist with positive social and environmental outcomes. Family farmers represent some of Australia’s best examples of outstanding environmental stewardship. 

"They have the greatest incentive of all to manage their land and water resources sustainably—the opportunity to pass that land on to the next generation in an even better condition."

Asked what his biggest goal is for water in Australia, Joyce said he wanted the Federal Government’s policy to be strongly linked “to the people who actually use the water”.

"I am working to ensure that irrigators and local communities have a seat at the table alongside investors, mining and power industries, financiers, state and territory governments, local governments and construction companies,” he said. 

"I’m committed to ensuring that Commonwealth-funded infrastructure investments, both on and off farm, make a significant contribution to the efficiency and productivity of irrigation regions."

For the full interview with Joyce, including his thoughts on the future of the Murray-Darling Basin and the potential to irrigate northern Australia, keep an eye out for the first issue of the Australian Water Association’s brand new Current magazine, hitting members’ mailboxes next month.