Basin state governments have signed a deal to lock in the future of water recovery under Australia’s long-standing and controversial environmental reform.
The deal was finalised at a meeting of federal and state water ministers who met in Melbourne today.
South Australia agreed to a provision pushed for by NSW and Victoria which bars voluntary buybacks of irrigation water licences to boost environmental flows, unless the a “robust” assessment of socio-economic factors demonstrates it would have a neutral of positive impact on socio-economic factors.
The deal means efficiency projects will contribute to the 450 gigalitres ‘upwater’ component of the Basin Plan, which will include lining irrigation channels, reducing water leaks in Basin cities and installing meters.
In exchange, SA receives Commonwealth funding to kickstart its desalination plant and investigate the use of renewable energy for power supply. The Commonwealth will contribute funds to investigate ways to keep price of Adelaide’s drinking water down when its supplied by desalination.
SA also gets funding for environmental projects in the Coorong Wetlands near the Murray River mouth.
NSW Water Minister Niall Blair said today the deal is a mutually beneficial compromise which creates certainty for river communities across the Basin.
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“Today we have negotiated something that benefits every state and every community rather than having local wins at the expense of others,” Mr Blair said.
“I commit to our regional communities today that the goal posts won’t move anymore and you can now decide if you want to ‘take a kick’ at them and invest in the opportunities afforded by certainty.”
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has sought the same outcome as NSW, arguing for years against on-farm upwater recovery.
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said today’s deal was the “last major piece in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan puzzle”.
“This will protect both jobs and production and will be applied at a local, regional and state level,’ Mr Littleproud said.
Communities across the Basin have campaigned against further on-farm recovery, warning politicians reducing irrigation would cripple struggling regional economies.
A troop of Riverina irrigators has trekked to Melbourne today to warn the states against further on-farm recovery.
Until now, SA has insisted upwater come from held water entitlements, namely on-farm sources, despite objections from NSW and Victoria.
The State’s former Water Minister Ian Hunter was a vocal opponent to NSW and Victoria at Minco.
But SA’s new Water Minister David Speirs was willing to compromise, and has acknowledged growing concern over on-farm recovery in farm communities.
Mr Blair today called on the Commonwealth to decentralise the Murray Darling Basin Authority, relocating the agency’s Canberra office in sites across the Basin as the upwater recovery switches from planning to implementation.
“We want those who are making decisions about communities to be part of those communities so they can incorporate local knowledge in their decision-making and not simply view the postcode as a number on a spreadsheet,” Mr Blair said.