Farmers in the southern Riverina are blaming the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for exacerbating flooding across the entire region.
The impact of flooding downstream of the Hume Dam, which is directly managed by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, has been described as a “catastrophe” by farmers who want to see politicians take responsibility for a “broken” plan.
Sheep grazier and irrigator Andrew Burge said releases from the Hume Dam near Albury had sent a “wall of water” down the river, smashing over 50 levees and flooding farms for the first time in decades.
The flooding came so quickly, Mr Burge said, that 2000 head of sheep were stranded on a newly-formed island, which were saved by swimming them through the waist-deep water.
“We’ve lost 70 per cent of our crop and the same amount of pasture,” Mr Burge said. “When the water goes down we’re going to be short of feed for our sheep, which is disappointing because after this season we should have had plenty.”
It is the first widespread wet to sweep across the Murray-Darling Basin since 2011 and from that time even more of the basin plan’s 2750 gigalitres has been reserved for the environment, with nearly two-thirds of water recovery completed.
Mr Burge said farmers had tried to warn authorities of the risk at the end of August, before the first massive soaking hit NSW and Victoria, but they had been ignored.
“You’d think after the Wivenhoe Dam fiasco state and federal governments would be very nervous about this,” he said. “The problem with the MDBA is they’re not only uncaring and inexperienced but they will not listen to anyone and this event has proven it.”
A report into the 2011 Brisbane flood, commissioned by the Insurance Council of Australia, ruled it to be a “dam release flood”. It named the release of water from Wivenhoe Dam as being the “principal immediate cause” of the riverine flood.
An MDBA spokeswoman said very high flows in the Murray River were a result of “persistent and heavy rainfall and flood operations at Hume Dam”.
“These are very different to the circumstances under which environmental water would be released for the constraints management strategy,” she said.
“The MDBA is preparing for an interim evaluation of the basin plan in 2017.
“This will give us an opportunity to review the socio-economic and environmental benefits of the basin plan and the effect of its introduction.”