Prof Sarah Wheeler, Associate Director of Research, Centre for Global Food and Resources at the University of Adelaide was interviewed by Amanda Vanstone on Radio National’s Counterpoint on 19 March 2018. “Fixing leaky pipes no way to save a river”.
Economists are critical of the way federal government money has been spent on saving the Murray Darling Basin. They say the focus on fixing irrigation means less reflows back into the system, is 2.5 times more costly per megalitre of water returned and encourages farmers to plant permanent crops.
Prof Wheeler, a water economist, says after the millennium drought the government put billions of dollars towards water recovery and only 1% of funds allocated to structural adjustment. A recommendation has now been made to stop water buy back directly back from irrigators, with all future recovery through on and off-farm irrigation and supply projects.
Across the Basin more and more irrigators have converted to permanent crops and away from seasonal crops. This is a concern because when the next drought hits, it is going to be permanent crop owners who are going to be most hurt and have the less flexibility to change their production and risk losing years of investment.