The chairman of the MDBA has spoken against the idea of diverting environmental water to drought-affected farmers.

With drought hurting communities across large swathes of Queensland, New South Wales and increasingly Victoria and South Australia, some have raised the idea of diverting water bought by Australian tax payers to help the environment to finish fodder crops instead.

“Making water available to fodder growers would be a difficult proposition,” says Neil Andrew, chairman Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).

“Releasing water onto the market would see it bought by the highest bidder, most likely those growing higher value crops.

“Any attempt to impose price and purchasing restrictions to benefit one sector over any other would distort the market and erode the value of the asset.

“There is water available to buy right now—at market rate—from those who choose to sell.”

Others have suggested ‘lending’ environmental water to farmers.

“This is not possible under current legislation,” Mr Andrew says.

“Even if it were, borrowers could face the real risk of having to enter the market to repay the loan when there is less water available and at even higher prices.”

There is also a suggestion to change the legislation that determines when and how Commonwealth environmental water can be traded, so it can be made more readily available to farmers.

“The current rules say the Commonwealth can only sell water at market prices and must have confidence that trading the water will not diminish environmental outcomes,” Mr Andrew said.

“These are the right rules if we want to ensure the Basin will be healthy in the long term.

“No one knows how long the current drought will last so we have to manage the Basin, whether it is productive farmland or iconic wetlands, for the long haul. The Basin Plan gives us the framework to do this.”