Contention over new desal water deal

Contention over new desal water deal

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THE state government has penned a new water deal with the federal government today.

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THE state government has penned a new "once-off" water deal with the federal government today, that will see the Desalination Plant increase production to provide 40 gigalitres of water for SA this financial year, which would otherwise be drawn from interstate.

Premier Steven Marshall made the deal to "support farmers when they need us most".

"Australians have become all too accustomed to the gut-wrenching images of farmers across the country in distress, with many on the brink of financial ruin," he said.

"We are prepared to provide support, but we will not jeopardise our own water security or do anything that increases costs to South Australians.

"The Commonwealth will meet all costs associated with increased use of the desalination plant and provide the extra water to farmers at less than market rates to maintain minimum production during the current drought.

"As part of this deal, we have also secured a $10 million SA Drought Resilience Fund, which will be available for our farmers."

Water Minister David Speirs said there were "farmers across the country crying out for help to keep livestock alive and ultimately feed Australian families".

"Given our desalination plant sits virtually unused, it's time to increase its production so water is made available to drought-affected farmers across the nation," he said.

"The arrangement is once-off, recognising the impact of current drought conditions.

"We have already used the Adelaide Desalination Plant to increase the water available to holders of SA River Murray allocations by eight percentage points and we are now further extending these benefits to a broader range of farmers in this time of national need.

"This is right thing to do at a time of national urgency, and our agreement protects our water security, the cost of water in SA and helps drought-affected farmers who are doing it very tough."

The government planned to assess the deal prior to the 2020-21 financial year and would consider providing an extra 60gL of desal water dependent on that review.

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But skepticism surrounds the deal, with opposition water spokesperson Susan Close questioning whether SA would be worse off.

"We need a guarantee SA households won't pay higher water bills," she said.

"South Australian also need a guarantee we won't be exposed to water restrictions in the event of a hot summer."

While SA Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young believed South Australians were being "taken for mugs", as the deal meant a reduction in water flowing into the Lower Murray.

"The consequences of reducing flows by 100GL to the Lower Murray could be significant for the health of the River," she said.

"Firing up the desal plant doesn't deal with the chronic over-allocation of water, corporate greed or drought.

"Cutting SA's river water allocation in favour of turning on the desalination plant is short-term thinking and I worry SA will be left carrying the can, with less water flowing downstream, higher water prices for Adelaide, and no political will to tackle upstream greed and over-allocation.

"The State Government has still not released its report into the cost-benefit of the desal plant, which is now months overdue, and yet today they have traded away more water from the Murray.

"This looks like the SA Liberals bending over backwards for their upstream Coalition mates, while back at home SA taxpayers, homeowners and the environment will be left carrying the cost."

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