By VINNIE RODI

SUNRAYSIA irrigators have started the 2017/18 season, which got under way on July 1, with 66 percent of their total water entitlement.

It is the first time in several years that irrigators have been allocated such a large percentage of their water share to start the season, and while a positive result, the large allocation has again seen irrigators raise concerns about rules relating to carryover and spillable water.

Lower Murray Water (LMW) Senior Manager Customer and Stakeholder, Owen Russell, PICTURED, said his organisation had been inundated with irrigator inquiries regarding the carryover system following the Resource Manager for northern Victoria’s recent seasonal determination, updated outlook and risk of spill assessments.

“Irrigators face several issues, including the amount of water they can carry over into a new season, with the main confusion coming from what is known as their spillable water account,” he said.

As it currently stands, 81,000 megalitres (ML) of water has been carried over by Sunraysia irrigators into the new 2017/18 season. To put this figure into perspective, Sunraysia irrigators have a combined water share of 347,000ML.

For those not involved in the irrigation industry, each Sunraysia-based irrigator has what is known as a ‘water share’, which represents the total amount of permanent water they own.

When the Resource Manager hands down an allocation, like the one that was handed down on July 1, it represents a percentage of water allocated against that water share.

For example, if an irrigator owns 100ML of water, and there is a 50 percent allocation, they have access to 50ML of their water entitlement.

According to Mr Russell, where the system confuses some irrigators is in how their carryover water affects their overall entitlement.

“If an irrigator, for instance, has a water share of 100ML, and they carry over 57ML into the next irrigation season, then that water is available for them to use or trade from day one of the new season,” he said.

“However, irrigators can never use or have access to more than 100 percent of their water share in any season.

“Again using the example of someone with a water share of 100ML, if you carry over 57ML, you effectively start the new season with 57 percent of your entitlement.

“Should the Resource Manager decide to allocate water in the new season, it’s then added on.

“Any excess is moved into what is called a spillable account, and cannot be accessed by an irrigator unless a spill declaration is made by the Resource Manager.

“There is a report published every two weeks about the possibility of spills by the Resource Manager, and what they’re looking at is the Hume Dam and other storages, and determining whether they are going to spill, while also looking at the amount of in-flows that are still to come in.”

Mr Russell said that while the rules around carryover and spillage accounts had been in place for the last five years, some growers were still confused, and often sought more information.

“We always get irrigators asking us whether they should go and use some of their allocation now to ‘make room’ for future increases, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that,” he said.

“Irrigators can only use or trade up to 100 percent of their allocation, regardless of whether they have started the season with carryover water, have a spillage account, or the Resource Manager allocates water to them.

“Our job is to provide irrigators with the right information, and carryover water should be seen as an insurance policy.

“If you look at it under those terms, then the system has worked well, however, there have been customers who have grown concerned because they’ve spent a lot of money on water, and it hasn’t worked out.

“Unfortunately those decisions are business decisions, and like any business decision, they carry a risk.”

Mr Russell said that generally the Murray system starts the irrigation season with a low allocation, making this year’s 66 percent allocation a rare occurrence.

“It’s probably an indication that our storage levels are quite high,” he said. “At the moment the Hume Dame is at 72.5 percent, which compared to this time last year it was only at 45 percent.

“And with so much water around, prices are also low for temporary water (around $50/ML).

“The next few months will determine how much more water makes its way into the Hume Dam, and whether there is a chance that irrigators will gain access to their spillable account.

“Irrigators are asking themselves how much water should I own? Should I trade? What should I try and carry over?

“While we can provide information to help make those decisions, they are decisions that essentially need to be made by each irrigator.”