AN INTERNAL row has erupted in the region’s peak irrigators’ group over access to a lucrative federal government grants scheme.
Angry Peel irrigators claim their own representative body – the Peel Valley Water Users – has effectively blocked them from tendering for grants under the $83 million Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure program. Managed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the scheme aims to return water to the environment by giving irrigators grants to improve their on-farm water infrastructure.
Water saved is then taken from an irrigators’ entitlement and sold back to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.
More than $5 million for infrastructure upgrades was gifted to Peel irrigators in the first two rounds of the scheme, but the valley has been excluded from round three.
“It appears Peel Valley Water Users has made representations to the DPI saying why we shouldn’t be included,” local irrigation consultant Lew Hyson said.
“They seem to think it would affect our economic growth if we sold water back to the feds.
“Irrigators are feeling very betrayed by their own organisation.”
But Peel Valley Water Users president Ildu Montecone said while the organisation did have concerns about the program, it had not lobbied the government to have local irrigators blocked from tendering for grants.
“We do have concerns about the way it is administered in the Peel,” Mr Montecone said.
“Twelve of the 17 projects funded in round two in the Peel were outside the guidelines.
“The amount of water some of those irrigators saved and sold back to the government was more than their actual annual useage.
“This is taxpayers’ money being wasted.”
He also said eight of the projects funded in the Peel were on properties classified as “inactive”.
“I’ve got nothing to do with what valleys the program is targeted at and if he (Mr Hyson) has a problem, it’s with the DPI,” Mr Montecone said.