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Southern Riverina farmers want fairer water charges

Murray Irrigation Limited needs to make fixed charges fairer for smaller landholders, according to a group of Southern Riverina farmers.

November 14, 2012 4:14am

They say fees and policies set out in the company’s Network Service Plan (NSP), released last year and valid for five years, is geared toward big irrigators.

As a result, they say the fees are disproportionate, with smaller irrigators paying far more per megalitre of water.

Local landholder Graeme Close said there is about ‘‘350 little blokes’’ in the MIL network, all of which are being slogged with high water prices.

He and fellow landholders Jeremy Bell and Chris Braybon have encouraged all small landholders to take part in MIL’s current fee and policy review.

‘‘The only way we are going to get anywhere is to start whinging,’’ Mr Close said.

‘‘I have a property of five acres which has 15ML of water. I’d only use about 7ML of that and I’m paying almost $600 per ML.

‘‘There are some blokes with 20 acre blocks and 40ML of water, and they’re paying $200/ML. They would never use all of that 40ML, but that’s what they have got.

‘‘They would only need to put another dollar on the big boys to be able to drop the smaller ones by half.’’

Mr Bell said with the high fees, it is starting to become uneconomical to ‘‘do anything’’.

‘‘Most of the small irrigators are up in arms - we’ve got higher fixed outlet and landholding fees and the delivery charges are geared to the big irrigators.

‘‘MIL has promised to look at the structure, so we need small irrigators to complete the survey.

‘‘If we don’t do something now, we will just get run over.’’

MIL started its review in August, and MIL general manager Anthony Couroupis said it was developed as a result of customer feedback.

Customers are now being invited to provide official feedback in two phases, the first of which ends on November 23.

Minor increases have been scheduled for variable standard water usage fees, which have also been divided into three different payment structures.

The tier one fee is for users of between 0-5 megalitres of water, who will be subject to MIL usage fee increases of between $1.14 and $1.26 per megalitre over the next five years – to $44.17 in 2016/17. Added to government charges, which will also increase slightly, the total charge per megalitre in 2016/17 will be $124.

Tier two sets a price for between 6-100ML used. It proposed MIL usage increases of between $0.31 and $0.34 to end up with $11.94/ML in 2016/17 and a combined fee of $26.32/ML.

Tier three sets the price for landholders who use more than 100ML, and the NSP recommends MIL usage charge increases of between $.015 and $0.17. By 2016/17 the MIL usage fee will be $5.97/ML and the combined charge will be $13.17.

The amount collected from MIL variable rates over the five year period is estimated at almost $16.3 million combined.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Ted Hatty said he believes the higher charges for small landholdings sparked the review.

He believes MIL, through the review, is trying to have a more balanced approach to fees and distributing costs.

He also encouraged all customers to be part of the feedback process.

MIL believes the Network Service plan should allow it to turn around an operating loss. It will be done by implementing a number of new fees for the next four years.

It will eventually see the company’s estimated profits go from a predicted loss of $2.6 million in this financial year to a projected $782,163 profit in 2016/17.

‘‘The new policy established a range of new fees, including landholding access, outlet and tiered usage fees,’’ Mr Couroupis said.

The online survey can be found at www.murrayirrigation.com.au, and must be completed by 5pm on November 23. Another consultation round will be held in February 2013.

Letter to the editor, page 4.

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