Media Release


NSW alternatives to buybacks plan a small step forward

Murray-Darling Basin farmers and communities remain at the mercy of governments getting on with the job to deliver their side of the bargain after the release of the NSW Alternative to Buybacks Plan.

The plan identifies only a handful of water-saving projects that have been on the table for several years and at best would deliver about 20 GL towards the Australian Government’s 450 GL target by the 2027 deadline.

Measures, such as the Murrumbidgee Irrigation and Coleambally Murrumbidgee Optimisation project, could be game-changers for water recovery and healthier rivers – but rely on the Commonwealth redefining what counts.

“Other proposals have potential, but require the NSW and federal departments to work together to expedite the work if the proposals are to be progressed in time to count,” said NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO, Claire Miller.

“Past history does not bode well in that regard.

“This is an extremely frustrating situation for Basin communities and farmers worried about whether they have a future under this new Basin Plan.

“We are sick of finger pointing over the years between the State and Commonwealth for why projects have not already been assessed, approved, funded and delivered, much less new ideas identified and progressed.

“The federal Water Minister is clearly determined to prioritise buybacks over all other options.

“At the same time, the NSW Plan does not give communities much hope buybacks will be minimised because much depends on the Commonwealth agreeing to greater flexibility in how it recognises water recovery.

“Too much relies on Commonwealth goodwill – and we have seen very little of that coming out of the Commonwealth since it decided to go down this path last year.”

Ms Miller said the NSW Plan also demonstrates how difficult further water recovery will be in practice, even when socioeconomic impacts are ignored.

“The fact is that all the low and medium hanging fruit for water savings projects has already been well and truly picked under successive programs including The Living Murray, Water for Rivers, and the Basin Plan from 2008.

“And we can see that buybacks are not proving the quick, cheap and easy option the federal minister was hoping, with shortfalls in the Bridging the Gap program despite paying well over market rates.

“Most frustrating of all is that further water recovery is not necessary for the health of the rivers. The Basin Plan and earlier reforms have already reduced diversions for towns, industry and irrigation to 28% per cent of Basin inflows.

“The biggest degradation drivers are now invasive species like European carp, cold water pollution, and poor policy directing river operations wrecking water quality and habitat.

“The billions of taxpayers dollars being poured into further water recovery should be spent on fixing what’s making our rivers sick if governments are serious about improving river health.”

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