An $88 Million USD grant awarded to Murrumbidgee Irrigation by the Australian federal government has been criticised as a “scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money”, according the Nature Conservation Council.
The grant is for infrastructure upgrades to improve water efficiency. Murrumbidgee Irrigation is one of Australia's largest private irrigation companies in the Murray-Darling Basin catchment area. The company claims that automation works, along with the replacement of 20 kilometres of open channels and the construction of a surge reservoir, will save 7.4 gigalitres in water. Of that, it is possible that 6.3 gigalitres could be returned to the environment.
Nature Conservation Council Acting Chief Executive has criticised the award: “That means every megalitre of water saved will cost taxpayers [$14,032 USD]. That is almost eight times the most recent price paid for the permanent trade of general security access to water on the open market in the Murrumbidgee. By some estimates, this is the most expensive water yet in Murray-Darling River system.”
Water buybacks are a far cheaper way to achieve the same result, according to Mumford. “The result is more certain than forecast gains from water efficiency measures, which are highly uncertain,” she added.
Mumford questioned why the Morrison Government was giving irrigators 1,100 megalitres under this arrangement, rather than returning that water to the environment to restore natural river flows.
“With climate change making less water available, such large sums should be used to diversify regional economies rather than subsidise already planned works of private irrigation schemes,” she continued.
“Reports show that each dollar spent on human services like hospitals and schools creates four times as many jobs as spending on infrastructure upgrades.”
Murrumbidgee Irrigation says the $88 Million USD grant will enable it to complete an almost decade-long project to halve its water losses. CEO, Brett Jones, told the ABC (Australia), “This is the last component of all the works done to make our system as efficient as possible.”