Well, not exactly. But sort of.
Currently the government is buying back the water rights from irrigation farms in bits and pieces, and more and more people are selling up their permanent water rights and leaving. Selling water has become more lucrative than farming.
According to a statement, the Prime Minister also recently announced the Government’s intention to work with irrigation communities to buy out water entitlements from areas willing to move out of irrigation, facilitated by a price premium reflecting the value of water savings from closure of infrastructure such as supply channels.
The current chairman of the Irrigation Area has made the suggestion to the Australian Minster for Water that for a grand total of $3.5 billion the government could just buy back the whole town: all the water rights at once combined with compensation to allow everyone in town to take up and leave (now there’s no farming community to support them – which is what’s happening anyway). Part publicity stunt, to point out the affect that the continual loss of water and people is having on farming communities, but also a reasonable suggestion that the government may need to make some difficult decisions about what areas should continue irrigation, rather than allowing the de-irrigation to occur in a random patchwork fashion.
Water scientists, including the late Peter Cullen and Wayne Meyer, the professor of Natural Resource Science at the University of Adelaide, have criticised the piecemeal approach to the water buyback.
Professor Meyer said governments should take the hard decisions to take some areas out of irrigation “and concentrate on making the other areas work very, very productively”.
In the late 1990s, the majority of their income for most people in the area came from rice farming. With 100 percent water allocations that might still be the case. But years of drought have led to seven years of reduced water allocations, hovering around 13 percent now. Not enough to grow rice. Enough to struggle along growing bits and pieces, and spending a lot of time hoping for rain, and having bores drilled so you have enough water to keep your livestock alive.