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Allocation boost urged

LANGHORNE Creek irrigator John Pargeter says extra water flowing in the River Murray could be used to increase SA’s food production in light of flooding in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales.A NEW dispute over South Australian water could be imminent after it was revealed the State has been accumulating cap credits for 13 years.

According to the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s Review of Cap Implementation 2009-10 document, SA has accumulated about 766 gigalitres in unused credits since 1997.

A MDBA spokesman said cap credits were calculated to determine whether a river valley was exceeding its diversion limit (or cap) and were put in place alongside annual cap targets.

“If a valley is in credit then it is not exceeding the cap,” he said.

“If it is in debit and the debit exceeds 20 per cent of the long-term average annual diversion, then that valley becomes subject to a special audit, which could determine that the valley is in breach of the cap.”

South Australia has never made a claim on its credits. But with up to 60 gigalitres flowing out to sea from the River Murray each day because of floods in the eastern states and irrigators on 67 per cent of water allocations, questions are being asked whether the credits can be used.

Liberal Member for Chaffey Tim Whetstone said the credits could be used to offset carryover and increase allocations to 100pc.

“It’s my understanding that SA could use its accumulated cap credits to cover any additional water required for the 100pc allocation,” Mr Whetstone said, adding that Victoria had offset its carryover water through credits in the past.

“The purpose of cap credits is to balance the water books at the end of any season. Given the negligible risk of exceeding the cap, I would have thought that the protection of cap credits held by the SA Government should be sufficient to allow them to increase irrigator allocations to 100pc.”

Mr Whetstone said he had also been arguing unsuccesfully with River Murray Minister Paul Caica to increase allocations by diverting water from the environmental pool, which, because of high inflows, was currently receiving unregulated inflows far in excess of its 303GL cap.

“It’s a matter of will, that’s the frustrating part,” Mr Whetstone said. “He’s denying the State an economic opportunity.

“For irrigators to receive an extra 33pc allocation that would allow for up to $150 million generated for the food production economy.”

SA Murray Irrigators chairwoman Caren Martin said the State Government viewed cap credits as a “maximum” and chose not to use them for political purposes.

“In order to gain credits, they restricted irrigators,” she said.

“Technically those credits were created by irrigators and now the states are using them against us. But what’s the point of it if we never use them? You might as well call it a maximum limit, full stop.”

Acting River Murray Minister Gail Gago said it was not possible to claim cap credits.

She said a cap credit did not represent real water in storage or water available to allocate.

“Historically, underuse of annual allocations would remain in the River Murray for environmental purposes and the use of any cap credit (which is not possible, however hypothetically) would have a significant impact on the environment in SA,” she said.

“It is simply an accounting mechanism to show the difference between actual use and the upper use limit.”

*Full report in Stock Journal, January 27 issue, 2011.

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