ABC Rural / 

By national rural reporter Kath Sullivan

Farmers and communities should expect more water to be lost from agriculture and returned to the environment unless the states speed up the delivery of water-saving projects, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has warned.

Key points:

  • The MDBA report card finds six key water saving projects are at significant risk of not meeting the 2024 deadline
  • If water savings are not made through projects, under law the basin plan requires more water removed from farming
  • One Nationals Senator wants to change the law and extend deadlines to give the states more time

With four years to go until the Murray-Darling Basin Plan must be completed, the MDBA has found that the states have been too slow to deliver key water-saving projects.

Its latest report card on the plan’s rollout said, despite good progress on 30 water-saving projects, there were six “significantly at risk” of not being completed by the June 2024 deadline.

“I think governments need to be quite concerned,” MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde said.

“The ones that matter that make the biggest contribution haven’t made sufficient progress and we’re very worried that they won’t be delivered in time.

“If that’s the case, further water recovery will be required.”

Mr Glyde said the projects were complex, required community consultation, and admitted some had been hindered by the summer’s bushfires and COVID-19 regulations.

“We really think governments need to focus now, and really redouble their efforts to make sure that we can get these projects delivered in time because, if we don’t, the legislation as it stands requires further water to be recovered from the farm sector, and that has significant impacts on that sector and the communities” Mr Glyde said.

“All we can do is simply point out what the progress has been and what the consequences are at the moment, under the existing legislation, if those projects aren’t completed.”

Senator says time to change law, extend deadline

The MDBA report card prompted Nationals Senator Perin Davey to call for changes to the law, so states may have more time to deliver the water-saving projects.

“We must extend the deadline,” Senator Davey, from NSW, said.

“It’s no surprise to me that it is taking longer than expected, the productivity commission recommended we extend the deadline … we were always promised that it was an adaptive plan.

“I think we now need to look at it and say if we want this plan to deliver the environmental outcomes we envisaged and we need more time to do that. We need to be open to taking those steps.”

Senator Davey said any more water recovery from agriculture would cause social and economic upheaval in “vulnerable” basin communities.

“We’ve got a way forward with these last six remaining projects, that have the in principle approval of the states.

“If they just need a bit more time, give them a bit more time, so we can give our communities some certainty instead of living with this constant threat over their heads that we’ll just get another cheque book and come out to rip out more water from your communities.

“I think our communities have had enough of that.”

Senator Davey would not say to what extent the deadline should be extended, but called on State Governments to propose revised deadlines.

“I have the support of my Senate colleagues, and [MPs] Damian Drum and Anne Webster,” she said.

“I’ve been having conversations with the Water Minister [Keith Pitt] and he knows the way I feel.”

State Water Ministers are expected to meet with Mr Pitt on Friday.

It will be the first Ministerial Council since Mr Pitt was appointed Water Minister.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-16/murray-darling-basin-states-slow-to-meet-basin-plan-commitments/12360424