Tricks of the trade: Humphries, Anderson under fire for water trading 'lies'

NO HELP: Peel Valley Water Users Association president Ildu Monticone says a new trading scheme will do nothing to address the sky-high water prices paid by irrigators. Photo: Geoff O’Neill

NO HELP: Peel Valley Water Users Association president Ildu Monticone says a new trading scheme will do nothing to address the sky-high water prices paid by irrigators. Photo: Geoff O’Neill

A TAMWORTH irrigator has dismissed as “outright lies” claims by two local state MPs that a new trading scheme will drive down sky-high water prices in the Peel Valley.

Laurie Pengelly is furious that NSW Water Minister Kevin Humphries and Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson are trumpeting the one-year trial as a victory for the region.

Under the existing pricing structure, by 2016-17 Peel Valley irrigators will pay 2300 per cent more for each megalitre of water than their counterparts in the Murray Valley.

The gross inequity, described as price gouging by many in the local industry, has prompted persistent calls for a standard water price across each of the basin’s valleys.

Such a “postage stamp” pricing approach would see the cost of water for Peel Valley customers drop from $55.13 a megalitre to just $7.37, according to State Water.

But hopes that Mr Humphries and Mr Anderson would advocate for the change appeared to be dashed last week when they instead announced a new water trading scheme.

In a press release titled “Driving down water prices in the Peel Valley”, the MPs said Peel irrigators would be permitted to trade with their Namoi Valley neighbours.

Mr Humphries described the scheme as a “very good result for irrigators ... and the people of Tamworth” as it increased ways for Peel water users to “generate income”.

Mr Anderson said the scheme, together with the upgrade of Chaffey Dam, demonstrated the government’s commitment to “provide cheap and reliable water to residents”.

However, Mr Pengelly said the proposal would do nothing to drive down prices and, at its absolute best, might merely go some way to mitigating future price rises.

“Driving down water prices in the Peel Valley is outright lies – you can quote me on that,” Mr Pengelly, a former president of the Peel Valley Water Users Association, told The Leader.

“We can’t trade because there is no allocation for the general-security users in the Peel ... so the big trial that’s going to reduce our prices is a non-event.”

Mr Pengelly said a closer look at the terms of the scheme on the NSW Office of Water website revealed the greatest beneficiary from the scheme, with all its additional fees and charges, would be State Water, not long-suffering local irrigators.

The Leader put a series of questions to both Mr Humphries and Mr Anderson yesterday and received a response from a spokesman for the water minister.

The spokesman said Peel irrigators with no water to start the season with would still benefit in the trial’s first year, but did not elaborate how.

To the question of whether the scheme was designed simply to allow State Water to recoup a higher portion of its costs, the spokesman answered “no”.

Asked exactly how the scheme would drive down prices, the spokesman said: “... given the potential for the Chaffey Dam augmentation to increase the volume of trading between the Peel and the Namoi, operational costs will be shared amongst a greater allocation volume, meaning that usage costs per megalitre in the Peel will fall.”

Mr Pengelly and an equally angry sitting Peel Valley Water Users Association president Ildu Monticone will put their concerns to Mr Humphries at a meeting in Sydney this afternoon.

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