8 Oct 2010

Rural riots feared over water allocation cuts

1:05 pm on 8 October 2010

There are warnings that a long-awaited plan for the Murray-Darling Basin could spark riots in regional towns which could be hard-hit by expected cuts to irrigation entitlements.

The draft plan, which will be issued on Friday afternoon, is expected to recommend overall cuts to irrigation allocations of between 27% - 37%.

Irrigators in the New South Wales town of Griffith say significant irrigation cuts could lead to civil unrest, wreaking havoc across regional Australia and sending food prices soaring.

The ABC reports the Murrumbidgee is high on the list of valleys to be hit hard by water cuts.

Gillian Kirkup, the chairwoman of Murrumbidgee Irrigation which represents more than 2,500 farmers growing food and fibre crops, says a 37% cut would take out more than a third of the area's water availability.

"It is actually huge," Ms Kirkup said. "That will mean agricultural jobs, there will be about 7,000 cut, and that will translate to about $A1 billion per year just in agricultural business value."

She says stress levels are high and it is not just among irrigators.

"I actually think there could be riots in the streets, and by that I mean it's not just the farmers," she told ABC.

"The community here are desperate. We have lots of diversity but it's all built around water. You take a third of the water away, there is no livelihood for a lot of people.

"Playing with people's lives just doesn't work. People are passionate, they are desperate. Remember we've just come out of 10 years of drought.

"So we've had good rainfalls and our lives are getting back together again, and then we are going to go into a man-made drought of less water which will be a permanent one, of which we won't be able to recover from."