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Abstract

This article is an economic analysis of reallocating River Murray Basin water from agriculture to the environment with and without the possibility of interregional water trade. Acquiring environmental flows as an equal percentage of water allocations from all irrigation regions in the Basin is estimated to reduce returns to irrigation. When the same volume of water is taken from selected low-value regions only, the net revenue reduction is less. In all scenarios considered, net revenue gains from freeing trade are estimated to outweigh the negative revenue effects of reallocating water for environmental flows. The model accounts for how stochastic weather affects market water demand, supply and requirements for environmental flows. Net irrigation revenue is estimated to be $75 million less than the baseline level for a scenario involving reallocating a constant volume of water for the environment in both wet and dry years. For a more realistic scenario involving more water for the environment in wet and less in dry years, estimated net revenue loss is reduced by 48 per cent to $39 million. Finally, the external salinity-related costs of water trading are estimated at around $1 million per annum, a quite modest amount compared to the direct irrigation benefits of trade.

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