The Federal government's plan to buy another 49 gigalitres of water from farmers "has sent a shiver down the spine of irrigation communities across the Murray-Darling Basin".
This is the reaction of a key irrigation group, the NSW Irrigators Council, after the Commonwealth made its intentions clear before a meeting of water ministers from around the country tomorrow.
NSW Irrigators Council chief executive Claire Miller said Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek had previously promised all options for meeting the obligations of the Murray-Darling Basin plan were still on the table.
"But instead (the government) is only pressing ahead with the most damaging and divisive option of all," she said.
Ms Plibersek yesterday said the government would buy another 49 gigalitres of irrigation entitlement across the Murray Darling basin.
That water will be bought from "willing sellers" in Queensland and NSW.
The government says it will "strategically" buy the water through an open tender beginning on March 23.
The extra 49 gigalitres had been highlighted as necessary for the Bridging the Gap program, so the Commonwealth meets its target.
The basin plan is poised to fall up to 315 gigalitres in total short of its water recovery target.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority assessed the progress of the state governments' water saving developments - known as SDLAM projects - and found they would only deliver between between 290 and 415 of the 605GL required by mid-2024, chief executive Andrew McConville has revealed.
It is believed this week's meeting will be asked to consider extending the 2024 deadline for all the basin plan's water buybacks.
The Commonwealth's 49.2 gigalitres, comprised of 46 gigalitres of surface water and 3.2 gigalitres of groundwater, would be recovered across seven targeted catchments
Those catchments are Condamine-Balonne catchment in Queensland and in NSW they are the NSW Murray, Namoi, NSW Border Rivers, Barwon-Darling and Lachlan.
The Albanese government made an election commitment to complete the basin plan, but Ms Plibersek faces opposition from the states at tomorrow's meeting with water ministers.
NSW Irrigators Council's Ms Miller said the government has also indicated it is contemplating buybacks to recover the additional 450 gigalitres promised to South Australia.
"The focus on buybacks as the first resort option is alarming, given the socio-economic and water market impacts of past buybacks well-documented by ABARES and in other reviews," she said.
United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Mark Billing last week said talk of water buybacks and attempts to secure the 450GL up-water target by the Commonwealth infuriated dairy farmers.
"They just want to get on with the job of milking their cows and feeding the nation," he said.
"With Northern Victorian milk filling gaps on supermarket shelves in Sydney and Brisbane, making sure that farmers have the water available to produce quality milk is truly in the national interest."
Ms Miller said another 450 gigalitres out of the irrigation pool was the equivalent of all the water left in the irrigation pool in the South Australian Riverland and the Victorian Sunraysia irrigation districts combined.
Or, it was almost as much as the water left in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation district, or the NSW Murray Irrigation system or the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District in northern Victoria.
"The minister needs to be upfront about which communities and towns she wants to shut down to deliver her basin plan," Ms Miller said.
"Communities are already living with the pressure of less water at higher prices, thanks to buybacks a decade ago. Further buybacks will push many off the edge in the next drought."
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