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  • Rikki Lambert

Farm water use up as prices lull: ABS

In a classic economic scenario of high supply, prices were low for water the Australian Bureau of Statistics' latest research indicates, and consumption rose 25 per cent.

Higher rainfall across most of Australia in 2020-21 pushed down water prices, seeing a 37 per cent increase in farm water use in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Jonathon Khoo, Director of the ABS Centre of Environmental and Satellite Accounts, said‌:

“Increased rainfall resulted in increased planting of water-intensive crops like cotton and rice, which had not been planted widely for several years due to drought.”

With a 23 per cent increase in national dam levels, the reliance on back-up water sources like desalination (-18 per cent) and re-use water (-4 per cent) dropped from levels seen in drier years.

Member for Western Victoria, the Liberals' Bev McArthur MLC, wrote in The Spectator this month:

In 2019, then Victorian Water Minister, Lisa Neville, did her very best to imitate Tim Flannery when she told The Australian that the, ‘Victorian government has ruled out new dams, saying climate change means not enough water would flow into them to make them worthwhile.’
Instead of taking the federal government’s offer of $1.3 billion for new water infrastructure, she only wanted money to expand the Wonthaggi desalination plant, saying ‘…we’d be very happy to see any new federal funding going towards augmenting our desalination plant, to increase the yearly production capacity from 150GL to 200GL.’
The Victorian Desalination Plant (VDP), requires huge amounts of electricity to create the water. Once constructed, a dam takes no energy at all.

Recently on Flow, member for flood-affected Riverina, the Nationals' Michael McCormack, repeated his call for the Wyangala Dam wall to be raised to increase farm water security and mitigate flooding from the Lachlan and Abercrombie rivers.

Australian households conditioned by years of water-saving initiatives during the Millennium Drought did not raise their water use by the same level as farmers in the latest data.

Total water usage per household remained steady at 180 kilolitres per household year-on-year. Mr Khoo observed:

‌“The decrease in household water use that is typically observed in wetter years appears to have been partially offset by an increase in people at home in 2020-21 due to lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”


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