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Farmers label $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin scheme a failure

Queensland farmers have accused the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) of ignoring a loophole in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that allows cotton irrigators to replace water sold back to the Commonwealth with captured floodwaters.

Farmer Chris Lamey told the ABC that local irrigators are undermining the intent of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan by constructing illegal earthworks that act as dams to capture floodwater.

“I’m blown away they don’t even count all this overland floodwater that’s being pushed into dams,” Lamey said. “It’s not even on the MDBA’s radar. They call it ‘leakage’.”

Mr Lamey said he discovered the loophole last year, when floodwaters destroyed his crops even as his neighbour’s property remained dry.

“When we found out there was no flood downstream, we got in a chopper straight away and went to the air to track down what was going wrong,” Lamey said.

The Lameys found that a series of earthwork structures had been built across the floodplain, and asked river ecologist Bill Johnson to assess the structure’s effects.

“It’s a levee… running from the McIntyre River to the north built at right angles to the overflow,” Johnson said. “Water is held up on the upstream side of it. It is, in effect, a dam.

“It looks like… it functions as a surge area that holds water even temporarily to allow it to be moved to other storage.”

The Federal Government has spent $13 billion incentivising irrigators to implement water efficiency projects, and the company accused of constructing the illegal earthworks – Norman Farming – has received at least $7 million.

Lamey said this money is wasted if irrigators are allowed to catch floodwaters off the plains.

“[The MDBA and the Queensland Government] are obsessed with making this project a success and I believe that they think a success means the money is out of the account and the water is in the Commonwealth’s account. They are not concerned one little bit about what happens thereafter,” he said.

When the earthworks were brought to Goondiwindi Regional Council’s attention last year, council informed the Lameys that it had requested the removal of the “illegal” structures.
However, ten months later the council said that if modelling paid for by Norman Farming justified the structure the works would be approved retrospectively.