“Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s attack on Australia’s cotton industry is missing key facts, and demonstrates a clear lack of understanding,” says Cotton Australia general manager, Michael Murray. “The Senator has raised a number of points and asked a series of questions. I will now answer those: • SHY: “People throughout the basin know water is being sucked out by corporate cotton overland water harvesting”. MM: “The majority of our 1400 cotton growers are family farmers along with the small number of ‘corporates’. We have zero tolerance of illegal behaviour.
- SHY: “Where is the water?” MM: “For large parts of NW NSW it is considered the worst drought on record. This year, south-eastern Australia experienced rainfall totals in the lowest 10 per cent on record, while NSW had its sixth driest year and the MDB saw its seventh-driest year. The 2018 flows in the Barwon-Darling are the lowest over the past 50 years. Across all of NW NSW, none of the major catchments were allocated water to general security accounts and most have not received anything since 2017. • SHY: “Why is so much less water making it downstream?” MM: “None of the major cotton valleys in NW NSW have received general security allocation this water year. What water has entered the system has gone to the environment, towns, stock and domestic users or permanent horticultural crops that have access to high security water.”
• SHY: “Why has QLD skated through this crisis with seemingly no questions to answer?” MM: “Due to the lack of water and reduced allocations, the size of this season’s crop in QLD is drastically smaller. Across the QLD part of the MDB, the only river flows this season followed a severe storm on the Darling Downs prior to Christmas. • SHY: “How did cotton have a bumper crop last year?” MM: “Last year’s crop was largely grown using carryover water growers had in storage after the last big rain event in 2016/17. This water they bought via their water licence, and chose to use at a later date. The same is true for this year’s crop.”
• SHY: “Why isn’t anyone talking about overland water harvesting?” MM: “In NSW, there has been an extensive government-led process working towards the fair licencing of floodplain harvesting, which will comply with the requirements of the MDB Plan. In QLD, the management of overland flow has been in place through the restrictions on the amount of storage irrigators can construct.” • SHY: “Why, when every other Australian has to account for the water they use, can corporate irrigators pump what they like with no way to know how much they’re using?” MM: “Farmers buy or lease water licences/entitlements. Annually, state governments allocate water to irrigators based on the amount of water available in the system, after water for the environment and critical human needs has been prioritised.” • SHY: “Why isn’t there a ‘no meter, no pump’ rule?” MM: “All cotton growers have a requirement to have a working meter, or an authorised alternative way of measuring water take. There are procedures in place when there is a breakdown where authorities need to be notified and other record keeping practices are put in place. In December 2018, the NSW Government increased the regulation of metering, with new standards in place. The QLD Government is in the process of developing a similar set of standards.”
• SHY: “Why has a water management plan designed to deal with drought failed?” MM: “The MDB Plan was designed to create greater reserves for the environment, to help it be more resilient during and after drought.”