Justice for Domestic Users was formed in 2016 to oppose hefty price rises set by Goulburn-Murray Water for small licence holders drawing water from rivers, creeks and groundwater.
As the next stage of the price rise looms, it is time to again examine how this situation arose.
In 2014, following an inadequate public consultation process, G-MW adopted a Diverters Tariff Strategy that favoured large users who dominate its water services committees.
The outcome of this strategy saw rises in various standard charges and a drop in charges set according to a user’s entitlement.
Extraordinarily, the strategy did not contemplate a component based on actual water taken although this has long been standard for diverters in NSW, and for channel irrigators.
In 2016, the strategy formed part of G-MWs submission to the Essential Services Commission seeking approval for the increases.
The commission’s evaluation was seriously inadequate but it did recognise the shortcomings in G-MW’s consultations and required the increases to be phased in over four years instead of two.
But in all other respects it left the tariff structure as G-MW had sought.
Justice for Domestic Users appealed against the commission’s decision on eight grounds but while our case was sound, the legal arguments required to prove factual errors in the commission’s decision combined with our limited resources meant that we had to drop our appeal.
But is it right that:
■A diverter in Victoria should have their bill fixed regardless of usage, whereas in NSW actual usage determines a third of a diverter’s bill?
■A 2Ml domestic and stock diverter on an unregulated stream should pay $200/Ml (after the increases) when an irrigator drawing 200Ml from the same stream should pay just $6/Ml?
■A 2Ml domestic and stock diverter in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District should pay double the price paid by their Riverina counterpart, who pay only the minimum tariff (currently $150/year rising to $200/year next year)?
■A 15Ml diverter on an unregulated stream in the GMID is paying around four times as much as their counterpart in the Riverina?
■Small groundwater users and diverters on unregulated streams must pay such hefty fees when the only reason G-MW and its infrastructure exists is to provide water for commercial irrigation?
G-MW has argued that if actual usage was part of its tariff structure it would face unmanageable revenue fluctuations as seasonal demand fluctuated.
This view dates from the days of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and overlooks the financial risk users face in having to pay for water that is not required, or not available.
Fair and affordable prices for irrigation water are essential for the social and economic fabric of our region but this should not come at the expense of small water users whose overall water demands on our rivers and groundwater supplies are close to negligible.
Justice for Domestic Users believes there needs to be a public inquiry into how rural water prices in Victoria are set.
Meanwhile we are urging the Essential Services Commission to reconsider its approval of G-MW’s price increases for diverters in 2017-18.
If readers wish to find out more, they can phone Nick Legge on 0424601861.
Justice for Domestic Users convenor and small landholder on the Acheron River at Taggerty