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Wakool farmers consider selling water to NSW -

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Wakool farmers consider selling water to NSW Govt

The World Today - Monday, 20 October , 2008 12:42:00

Reporter: Jennifer Macey

ELEANOR HALL: The community of Wakool in south-west New South Wales may soon become the first
district to sell all of its permanent water licences to the Federal Government.

About 230 farmers from the Riverina area have been meeting Federal Government officials to
negotiate a price for the entitlements to 330,000 mega litres of water.

But others in the community are worried that the sale will see farmers walking off the land and
regional towns dying.

Jennifer Macey has our report.

JENNIFER MACEY: Wakool Shire in the heartland of the Riverina is home to about two and a half
thousand people.

Farmers in the region have long used irrigation to grow rice and grains and farm some dairy and
lamb.

But the protracted drought and two years of zero allocations have left many farmers with massive
debts.

So now they're thinking about selling their permanent irrigation entitlements which total 330,000
mega litres of water.

David May is the chairman of the Wakool Landholders Association.

DAVID MAY: We have some stressed farmers out there. They are not willing sellers. They are
desperate sellers and the way the Government are approaching their government buybacks at the
moment with their ad hoc fashion, people are fearful of what may result at the end.

JENNIFER MACEY: The Government plans to spend $3.1-billion over the next ten years to buy back
water for the health of the Murray-Darling Basin.

And the Government says it is offering willing sellers a premium price.

David May says Wakool farmers want to sell as a group rather than being picked off by the
Government one by one.

He says some farmers will try to convert their properties to dry land farms - while others will
inevitably sell.

DAVID MAY: Well, what we are trying to do is try to identify the real cost of water to our district
and that is more than just a market price for the mega litre of water. It is a reflection of the
infrastructure, the on-farm infrastructure that has taken place, the regional infrastructure that
we have in our area and also the third party impacts, the community impacts that will result from
such a move.

JENNIFER MACEY: The regional communities are worried that if the water goes - so too will the
farmers.

The Mayor of Wakool Shire, Rod Chalmers says this could lead to the death of many small towns.

ROD CHALMERS: It would have a very large impact. We have five small towns in our shire and we would
expect that two or three of them would probably almost become ghost towns because they are service
communities which service the irrigation industry.

We have rice silos which would immediately become redundant and we would then lose probably 30 to
50 per cent of the population I would imagine.

JENNIFER MACEY: Yet the Mayor of Wakool Rod Chalmers is in a difficult position.

He's worried about the impact of the Federal Government buy back scheme - but he's also a rice
farmer and part of the group of 230 farmers considering selling his water licences.

ROD CHALMERS: Due to our financial situation, we probably will have to sell water in order to
survive in this district. Like we have had three years of effectively low to nil income and we are
having trouble managing that.

JENNIFER MACEY: Lester Wheatley is the chair of the Murray Valley Community Action group in nearby
Deniliquin.

He says the federal water buyback scheme will decimate local communities.

LESTER WHEATLEY: This is a calamity of the highest order for the communities that depend upon and
live around these farming areas because the Federal Government and state as well, have shown
absolutely no concern whatsoever for the socio-economic ramifications of these actions and when you
get a large scale sell-out, in this case, 330,000 mega litres of water, you've got to ask the
question. What is going to happen to Australia?

JENNIFER MACEY: The Wentworth Group of Scientists Peter Cosier says he understands the concern of
local communities.

But he told tonight's Four Corners program that the closure of some rural towns is unavoidable.

PETER COSIER: I'd put the question back to them. What if you don't do a buyback quickly? What is
going to happen then? You'll have exactly the same outcome except it will be stretched over ten or
15 years.

ELEANOR HALL: That is scientist Peter Cosier the director of the Wentworth Group ending that report
by Jennifer Macey.