IRRIGATORS will be paid twice for water the Federal Government reclaims for the Murray, conservationists claim.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the Lower Lakes last month to announce an additional 450 billion litres of water for the Murray-Darling Basin and appease those who complained the initial figure of 2750 billion litres was not enough.
The water will be saved by irrigation companies which benefit from the $1.7 billion taxpayer-funded irrigation efficiency works, such as pipelines or micro-irrigation, replacing open channels and large sprinklers.
Under questioning before a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the deal last week, a senior Department of Water official revealed taxpayers also would pay irrigation companies for half the water.
Departmental deputy secretary David Parker told the committee: "There would be an investment in infrastructure in return for half of the water saving but it would have an associated linked purchase at the farm level for the remainder of the water saving."
The conservationists argue the efficient infrastructure provided to the companies reduces their use but does not impact on crop production, so they should not be entitled to further payment.
Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Jonathan La Nauze said it was good that there would be more water for the environment but the extra payment was a "rort" funded by taxpayers.
"I think this exposes the already existing rort in the Government's water recovery program irrigators get a free upgrade for their equipment and the Government only gets half the water," he said.
"An on-farm efficiency grant will pay for the farm infrastructure upgrade, leading to ... water saving. Under the on-farm scheme, only half is handed back to the Commonwealth. So the Commonwealth will now buy the other half back at the market rate.
"So the farmer gets paid twice for the water."
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