River Murray water allocation announcement will help irrigators plan ahead

Photo: Shutterstock.
Photo: Shutterstock.

Planning ahead will get easier for River Murray irrigators from this year as the state government makes its water allocation systems more transparent.

The government will announce opening allocations for 2019-20 by mid-April at the latest, based on advice from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority about how much water is in storage across the basin at the end of March.

If the opening allocation is 50 per cent or less of irrigators' full entitlements, the government will also provide clarity about whether they can carry over unused water from previous years.

Environment and Water Minister David Speirs suggested that was a distinct possibility.

"Given we have continuing dry conditions across the Murray-Darling Basin, there is a high risk that South Australia (will) not be guaranteed its full River Murray entitlement of 1850 gigalitres at the start of 2019-20," he said.

Irrigators and interested parties will be able to learn more about the water availability outlook, managing risk in the water market and the changes to the announcement process at forums to be held in Murray Bridge and at Langhorne Creek on Monday.

Former Premier Dean Brown will chair the Murray Bridge forum, which will also feature the Department for Environment and Water's Dan Jordan and Jarrod Eaton, Waterfind market regulation director Stuart Peevor, Aither senior consultant Kai Wakerman Powell and the SA Dairyfarmers Association's Warren Jacobs.

Mr Jordan, Mr Eaton, Mr Peevor and Mr Wakerman Powell will also attend the Langhorne Creek forum, which will be chaired by Democracy Co executive Emily Jenke and include Langhorne Creek Grape and Wine's Liam Jaensch.

The events will be held at Murray Bridge Golf Club at 10.30am and Langhorne Creek Hub at 2pm.

Lessons learned from the past

The water allocation system earned heavy criticism from irrigators in 2016, when previous minister Ian Hunter confirmed an opening figure of just 36 per cent only a few days before it came into effect.

The state government had advised in April of that year that a lower allocation was coming, but could not put a percentage on it.

The allocation then lurched all the way back up to 100 per cent within seven weeks, prompting questions about how much the then-Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources had known, and when.

Prior to 2016, opening allocations were simply announced in the last days of June before coming into effect on July 1.