An almond grower and processor in north-west Victoria has been ordered to donate thousands of dollars to community organisations after it pleaded guilty to taking water from the Murray River, in breach of the Victorian Water Act.
- Over the course of 2019, Brownport Almonds was found to be illegally pumping thousands of megalitres of water onto its properties near Mildura
- Its barrister says that the company wanted to keep its water balance positive but drought, high water price and market volatility had seen it go into debt
- The magistrate is ordering the company to pay at total of $27,500 to the court and local charities as well as $20,000 to Lower Murray Water
The Mildura Magistrates Court heard that, over the course of 2019, Brownport Almonds Pty Ltd pumped 4,870.726 megalitres of water on to its properties at Hattah, near Mildura, while its accounts had a negative balance.
Brownport’s barrister Sebastian Reid told the court that Brownport attempted to keep its water balance positive, but it was battling drought, high water prices and market volatility during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 irrigation seasons and found it hard to trade high volumes of water.
Brownport took water from the Murray River 116 times while its water account was in debt, between March 1 and May 30, 2019.
Lower Murray Water (LMW) wrote to Brownport Almonds’ director in May 2019, requesting the company immediately buy more water to bring its account back into a positive balance or the outlets at its Hattah property would be “locked and access denied”.
Mr Reid told the court that, until April 2019, Lower Murray Water would write to customers and overuse could be addressed within 30 days.
But Lower Murray Water changed its customer charter in response to an agreement signed by the Basin Compliance Compact, “which resulted in vastly greater penalties for taking water when your account was in debt”.
LMW also threatened to lock the Hattah outlets again on October 17, and the company traded in 1,600 megalitres to bring its account back into balance.
The company pleaded guilty to taking water while its account was in debt on a further 31 occasions that month.
Magistrate Coghlan said that, by the second half of 2019, “going into debt was no longer an accepted practice and offending [was deemed to have] started as soon as you turn on the tap”.
Brownport Almonds was ordered to pay $2,500 to a Magistrates’ Court fund and to be of good behaviour for six months for the first set of charges.
It was also ordered to make a donation of $20,000 to Sunraysia Cancer Resources and $5,000 to Mallee District Aboriginal Services’ Wiimpatja Healing Centre for the second set of offences.
Mr Coghlan said he recognised Brownport Almonds was a significant employer that had been in the region for a long time.
Brownport also agreed to pay Lower Murray Water $20,000 in legal costs.