Irrigators attended meetings in Goondiwindi, Dirranbandi, St George, and Toowoomba last week to to hear first hand from the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) about proposed amendments to the Basin Plan.
The MDBA announced last month that it was seeking to reduce the water recovery target for the Northern Basin from 390GL to 320GL.
So far 65GL has been removed from the Condamine-Balonne, meaning another 35GL would still be needed to be taken from the St George and Dirranbandi districts.
In the Border Rivers district, another 14GL would need to be recovered under the proposed 320GL water target.
Tensions were high at the Dirranbandi meeting on Wednesday where local farmers and business owners told staff from the MDBA that their community had already been severely impacted by water recovery and that the loss of any more water would be ‘devastating’.
Balonne Shire deputy mayor, Fiona Gaske said the high level of emotion at Dirranbandi was not surprising.
“I really felt their frustration and I understood it because as yet the authority is unable to identify how that 35GL will be recovered,” she said.
“There is so much uncertainty as to what it means for them, particularly in relation to targeted buybacks. We just don’t know what’s ahead of us.”
Balonne Mayor, Richard Marsh, told the St George meeting his shire could not afford any forced water buybacks.
“320GL will push us over the top,” he said.
“In Dirranbandi the school has gone from 130 students last year to 62 students this year and in St George the RSL has recently closed. There were other factors at play there but the Murray Darling Basin issues have certainly contributed.”
At the St George meeting, the Member for Warrego, Ann Leahy, said the MDBA had failed to address key issues around compliance and could not guarantee any recovered water would go to the environment.
Ms Leahy said the purpose of the MDBA was to ensure “we don’t have those cliff faces at borders and they have failed dismally”.
“How will the Queensland irrigators ever meet their environmental outcomes when their environmental water isn’t getting to the environment?” she asked.
MDBA Chief Executive Phillip Glyde and chairman Neil Andrew acknowledged compliance was an issue.
Mr Andrew said that reports from ‘whistle blowers’ about illegal pumping activities in the Northern Basin were referred to the relevant state bodies by the MDBA as the Authority currently had no powers to deal with them.
“It’s certainly something we are aware of and that we are considering,” he said.