Water torture

When planning began for the management of the Western Mt Lofty Ranges’ water resources a decade ago, the memory of the millennium drought was still fresh in most farmers’ minds.
Many had been through the juggling act of managing cattle, dairies, orchards and vineyards on dwindling water supplies from drying dams and waterways.
They could remember the State’s water reservoir levels dropping and the once mighty Murray reduced to a trickle.
There was a general understanding that water was a resource that needed to be better managed to secure the future of the region’s primary production sector, the environment and Adelaide’s water supply.
When they were told they would have to pay a fee to have a licence to use the water many growers’ families had accessed for free for generations, there were grumblings, but they paid up.
Then came the news that landowners would have to have a meter installed to monitor use – and pay for that as well.
When the announcement of a levy arrived, the grumblings turned into heated protests that firmly pitted long-term producers against the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board responsible for rolling out the plan.
Monday night’s meeting in Uraidla was a further widening of the divide emerging over water management in the Hills.
Growers are meeting the State Government’s threats of legal action and land seizures over non-payment of the levy with their own revolt by threatening to tear up their bills.
For many primary producers, the levy is just another tax – on top of recent soaring Emergency Services Levy bills – making it harder for them to make a living.
For the NRM Board it’s a fair way to raise money to part-fund the cost of water management – a cost that has been borne by other licence holders in the Barossa, Northern Adelaide Plains and McLaren Vale for the best part of a decade.
Why should one region get its water for free, while others pay to access the same resource?
The only certainty in this debate now is that unless both sides can shelve their differences and communicate more effectively to make the plan work, then ultimately everyone will lose out when the next drought arrives.