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Under Pressure: New South Wales Threatens to Quit Murray Darling Plan

The New South Wales Government is threatening to pull out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, saying it will control water management alone if a list of demands are not met.

Among the demands, New South Wales’ Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey has requested that the state be excused from contributing any more water back to the MDBA’s state target of 450 gigalitres for environmental use.

They also want to hold off on developing water resource plans until the drought breaks, and an end to to proposed engineering projects that will divert more water downstream. 

Minister Pavey has also insisted that Menindee Lakes be allocated a ‘drought reserve’ of 300 gigalitres, rather than the 80 gigalitres proposed in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The New South Wales Government is under pressure from drought-affected farmers who are concerned that the plan has stripped New South Wales of irrigation water in favour of downstream states. 

During the last decade, many New South Wales farmers returned high-security water entitlements to the commonwealth for environmental flows, leaving them with less-reliable water entitlements. Dry conditions and slashed water entitlements have seen the price of water sky rocket, putting further stress on the state’s producers.

“We simply can no longer stand by the Murray-Darling Basin plan in its current form, the plan needs to work for us, not against us,” said New South Wales Deputy Premier, John Barilaro.

“NSW is being crippled by the worst drought on record and our future is at risk. The plan should be flexible, adaptive and needs to produce good environmental outcomes for this state.”

“I refuse to let regional communities die while we wash productive water into the Great Australian Bight, 1,000km away.”

“If they reject any recommendations or changes, we leave. There is no flexibility. Despite the drought, we are still obliged to deliver the 450 gigialitres. New South Wales really gives up everything. South Australia gets too much.”

In response to Mr Barilaro’s claims, South Australian water minister David Spiers has defended the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, saying, “the agreement protects South Australia’s water security and cost of water.”

“What we need now is mature, balanced leadership across the basin to deliver the agreed plan in full for the benefit of all those who rely on this precious resource.”

Federal water resources minister David Littleproud responded to New South Wales’ demands by increasing the power of interim inspector general of Murray-Darling Basin water resources, Mick Keelty.

Minister Littleproud has asked Mr Keelty to conduct a review of water sharing arrangements, but stressed that water allocation would remain “a matter for the states.”

Water sharing arrangements set out how water is shared between classes of licence holders, the environment and Indigenous communities. In New South Wales, water sharing has been blamed for causing the widespread death of fish in the Menindee Lakes last summer.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority Chief Phillip Glyde warned that New South Wales’ threatened departure from the plan would be counter productive to its own farmers.

“The Deputy Premier is confusing the two things. If New South Wales pulls out of the basin plan tomorrow, it won’t add one megalitre more to farmers currently dealing with drought,” he said.

At a Glance: List of Demands

New South Wales’ proposed changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan include:

  • Being excused from contributing anymore water returns to the MDBA’s state target of 450 gigalitres
  • Classifying water evaporation as a portion of environmental returns
  • Cancelling engineering projects, such as the Yanco Creek project which would allocate more water downstream
  • Increasing the Menindee Lakes ‘drought reserve’ from 80 to 300 gigaalitres
  • A suspension on the development of water allocation plans, until the drought breaks
  • The removal of barrages from lakes in South Australia, in order to allow saltwater back in

Sources: The Australian, The Guardian
Image: “Murray River from Hume Dam-1=” by Sheba_Also 43,000 photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

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