‘‘We possibly haven’t really achieved a lot’’ was the uninspiring message Berrigan Shire general manager Rowan Perkins took away from a meeting on guaranteed Murray River levels last week.
Mr Perkins was among a contingent of council and tourism delegates who met with Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) staff in Tocumwal on Thursday.
The meeting was called following continued pressure from local tourism stakeholders to ensure river levels are maintained at an appropriate level during holiday periods.
It stemmed from a period of low river levels over Christmas and New Year holidays, which is believed to have impacted negatively on visitor numbers.
Mr Perkins said predictions for Easter river levels may be compromised as well.
He said without guaranteed river levels, the Shire’s economic prosperity is at risk, not only because of reduced visitors, but through ‘‘reputation loss’’.
‘‘It obviously impacts on business and visitor numbers,’’ he said.
‘‘That results in a significant downturn (of visitors).
‘‘They are still predicting low levels over Easter but we were given no assurances about anything.’’
Berrigan Shire councillors believe the tourism impact could be easily avoided through better river management by the MDBA.
Despite passionately pleading their case with the authority, Mr Perkins said he did not feel as if anything would come from the meeting.
But he stressed that last week’s meeting was just the start of the process.
‘‘We pressed upon having good river levels over Easter,’’ he said.
‘‘The meeting did open up a communication line, and they have suggested that we need to speak with the State Government.
‘‘But we are possibly going to have to apply pressure to get the authority to be more aware of the impacts [of the low river levels].’’
Acting on behalf of the Southern Riverina, Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley has also taken the river heights fight on board.
She said she spoke with MDBA chief executive Rhondda Dickson herself recently, which she believes prompted the Tocumwal meeting.
Following on from the meeting with Ms Dickson, Ms Ley said she was disappointed with the response.
It has encouraged the Member for Farrer to develop her own river levels strategy.
‘‘Rhondda said she understood the need for levels to be high for tourism, and she was sympathetic.
‘‘But I am not happy that the rules do not consider tourism and socio-economic needs as a requirement to raise the height.
‘‘It is by goodwill alone that will allow the river to be managed in this way, and that is not sufficient.
‘‘I would like to see some written rule.
‘‘I’m planning to do a bit more, and will get my colleagues together to form a strategy.’’
Both Ms Ley and Mr Perkins rejected the MDBA’s explanation for low river levels over Christmas, when told it was a result of increased agricultural demand.
‘‘We need a better strategy that takes that into account,’’ Mr Ley said.
Attending Thursday’s meeting at the Tocumwal Recreation Reserve were Mr Perkins, three Berrigan Shire councillors, council economic development officer Phil Nunn and two representatives from Sun Country on the Murray.
From the MDBA, there was policy and co-ordination general manager Brent Williams and senior director of operations Joe Davis.
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