By VINNIE RODI

LOWER Murray Water (LMW) says it is continuing to work with stakeholders to implement appropriate plans in the event of delivery ‘shortfall’ scenarios occurring during peak irrigation periods.

A shortfall scenario is where demand potentially outstrips the ability to move water through the system due to a lack of capacity for the river system to carry water, or extremely hot weather causing a spike in orders.

The work is particular important in the wake of the region’s recent hot-spell, which has seen irrigator demand for water at its highest. 

Irrigators have pumped approximately 13.3 percent more water this season compared to this time last year in an attempt to combat the extreme weather. 

LMW manager Communications and Engagement, Leesa Merrett, and executive manager Customer and Stakeholder, Andrew Kremor, said the organisation has been working to develop an effective shortfall implementation and communication plan for close to two years.

“We’ve been working with the Resource Manager, State Government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) around planning for if an event was to occur that would require rationing for customers,” Ms Merrett said.

“We have both an implementation plan and a communication plan in place, and we’ve done some work with customers as to how that would be enacted, and also spoken quite extensively with our customer committees regarding what’s involved in rationing across private diverters and in-district.”

LMW has broken its shortfall planning into sections, including identifying the risk of a potential shortfall (shortfall imminent), short-term shortfall enacted (less than five days), longer term-shortfall (more than 10 days), shortfall rescinded (either by reach or total length of system) and review of shortfall implementation.

“A shortfall is determined by the MDBA and advised to the States involved (Victoria, NSW, SA etc),” Ms Merrett said. “Each State is allocated an amount of what can be supplied and how much of a reduction is required.

“The individual resource managers for each State then provide that information to the relevant Water Managers, like LMW, who then apply that to our systems – delivery share for our district irrigators and extraction share for diverters.

“Growers who use WaterNow for ordering will be able to login and view the amount of water they can take over a seven-day period.”

Ms Merrett said LMW would have a similar process in place for private diverters.

“Even though they don’t order water, they would have a reduction in their extraction rate,” she said. “We have telemetry in place for all our rural customers, which gives us accurate information on what is being taken, including our private diverters. This is then reviewed daily to ensure compliance to the rationing.

“We are also about to undertake an education campaign to ensure we have current contact information for all our rural customers. SMS, email and website messaging will be a key tool to communicate potential risks of shortfalls and the implementation of a rationing event.”

Mr Kremor said the move to establish firm procedures to cater for a shortfall scenario had come following several MDBA media releases.

“DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) also put out a couple of factsheets around that risk just before Christmas, and not just in the short-term, but the long-term,” he said.

“So in that context we’ve been working with our customers to say if that occurs or when it occurs how we will manage that.

“It’s a process that is still being refined, and thankfully we haven’t had to use it yet.”

According to LMW, the last major shortfall event to occur in Sunraysia was in 2002. 

“There was an attempt to manage the issue at that stage that I don’t think was very effective,” Mr Kremor said. “The reason we’re talking about this now is mainly the supply and demand. 

“The number of pumps taking water from the river has increased significantly in recent times, and so you get to a stage where at certain points in the river you get tight spots.

“We’ve been working with private diverters and in-district customer about how we would restrict usage in those periods so sufficient water gets through to meet obligations.

“We have a system where irrigators order what they need – but they might take more (water) than they ordered, or they might start (pumping) earlier than they said, or finish later, so you have this coincidence of demand that can occur.

“We have issued notices calling on irrigators to stick to their order to ensure the system can deliver.”

Mr Kremor said that, in his opinion, it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ a shortfall event would occur, but more a matter of ‘when’.

“It’s only a matter of time before there will be a coincidence of demand caused by heat in our area, or GMID, or maybe a mistiming of when water is released through the choke,” he said.

“There will come a time where there will be an issue, and the key thing is that we know that this is a possibility, and we want to manage it, so we need to get everyone on board, and we think we’ve done that.

“One of the key things is that LMW is clear-cut on compliance, and that we’re working with customers and government around what type of compliance measures we need to make to ensure we can get water to customers as they’re entitled to take it.”