The VFF acknowledges that over the next 50 years, water supplies will need to double just to meet demand in cities and towns across the region. Farming businesses will not be immune from the impact of declining supply of inflows into the region’s dams and increased demand created by population growth. The VFF supports the need for a plan to avoid chronic water shortages that will affect the state’s liveability and prosperity.
With a growing population in Melbourne comes a greater demand for food. The agricultural industry stands ready to expand and meet this demand. But in order to provide food security for Melbourne, farmers need access to quality and reliable supplies of water. The greatest challenge is how to expand our irrigation networks in the face of deteriorating supplies and increased demand from other sectors.
As a consequence of the challenges mentioned in the discussion paper, irrigated agriculture faces many potential disruptions that will undermine industry confidence and our ability to grow. That is why the VFF welcomes the government’s clear and unequivocal position that the rights of existing entitlement holders will not be impacted in the implementation of the strategy. This must be a guiding principle for the implementation of the SWS and the VFF will actively hold government and water managers to account for this principle. However, the VFF has identified a number of proposals in the discussion paper that we believe will undermine this principle.
The VFF is concerned that environmental water targets set out in the discussion paper are not underpinned by a realistic plan for their recovery. This is seen as a major threat to farmers’ water entitlements as failure to establish supplementary water sources (i.e. recycled water) will result in those targets either being unfulfilled, or fulfilled by altering irrigators’ entitlements.
The VFF is also concerned by a number of proposals relating to water for Traditional Owner groups. We note that the emerging discussion surrounding Traditional Owner water rights in recent years presents challenges to the current framework for water governance and management in Victoria. This submission provides commentary and recommendations on the proposals relating to Traditional Owner water rights that we believe are ambiguous and may create risks for existing water users.
One of the major visions contained within the Strategy relates to the expanded use of recycled water in the community, and for agriculture. The VFF is fully supportive of government taking a leadership role in pursuing alternative sources of water, having long called for this commitment. However, we do note that recycled water is not a panacea for our collective water security challenges, and that the application of recycled water in the agriculture industry must take into consideration a range of constraints related to quality, price, reliability, volume, liability and research. The VFF is asking that these challenges be acknowledged in the final Strategy.
Ultimately the VFF is concerned that elements of the discussion paper create uncertainty for farmers and the agriculture industry, not just in the Central and Gippsland region, but for other communities across the state.
The VFF understands that the consultation for this document has been challenging given COVID-19, the lack of face-to-face discussions and the consultation process occurring during spring which is the busiest time for farmers. The VFF is keen to work with the government to ensure the final strategy takes a form that provides confidence to farming communities and our agricultural industry.