DOZENS of growers out west face the heart-breaking prospect of having drought ruin their cotton crops despite holding irrigation water in storage.
Desperate Namoi River irrigators are calling on the NSW government to allow them access to water already paid for and credited to their accounts.
But to their frustration, under provisions in the water sharing plan designed to prevent over-usage, those extra allocations cannot be released until July 1.
Namoi Water chairman Matt Norrie said many growers in the valley needed extra water after enduring a season completely devoid of rain.
He said it was imperative not only for the farmers, but also the wider community, that the crops reach their full potential.
“It’ll have a financial impact on the growers, a financial impact on the community and also a mental health impact to those people who can’t finish their crops off,” he said.
But Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson said she would not entertain any sudden changes to the plan that could distort the water market.
She said the government was open to making sure water sharing plans “are as flexible as possible”, but changes must be made “in a structured, widely-consultative and transparent way”.
“While I empathise with the group of irrigators in the Namoi valleys, I need to be sure that any decisions I make do not undermine the integrity of the water market, or set a precedent which may have unintended consequences now or into the future,“ she said.
“In essence, previous water sharing plan suspensions were about ensuring there was enough water available to meet critical human needs until such time as the drought broke, which is different to the situation in the Namoi.”
However, Mr Norrie said the minister’s justification for refusing the appeal for special dispensation simply “didn’t hold water”.
“We are not requesting a suspension, we are requesting an amendment,” he said.
“There have been several amendments made to multiple water sharing plans over a short period - one in the Gwydir and two in the Namoi - that went through in October, November and December last year.
“And as far as the market goes, if she would like to not have any market distortions, she can quite easily draw into the amendment that any water released is not tradeable.”
Pian Water Users chairman David Phelps said the exceptionally dry conditions meant growers had needed to irrigate far more than usual.
“The requirement to finish these crops is at least 30,000 megalitres,” he said. “There is not even 10 per cent of that requirement in the current water market.”