Murray Darling Association president David Thurley has called on the government to come up with a better definition of socio-economic neutrality in the basin plan.
It comes as profiling by the basin authority reveals the extent to which the agricultural industry in the Southern Basin has been affected.
The MDBA has found water recovery for the plan caused half of the 13 per cent decrease in milk production in Cobram to 2016.
In Berrigan-Finley, the plan has contributed to a four to five per cent reduction in the amount of land used for the production of irrigated crops like rice and cereals.
Cr Thurley said it was difficult to define the impact of the plan amongst the many causes of agricultural workforce reduction.
“If you look at areas that had nothing to do with the basin plan the same applies … that’s not to say of course the plan and water buybacks have not caused problems in these communities,” he said.
“One of the problems is that while you can take water out of a community and reimburse particular farmers, there has not been a proper mechanism for reimbursing the community for losses that flow on from that.”
A further 450 billion litres of water can only be recovered if that recovery does not cause any negative social or economic impacts.
MDA has proposed a review of the definition for socio-economic neutrality used for the plan, done in conjunction with the CSIRO and University of Canberra.
“They’re saying is if someone agrees to farm efficiency projects, it’s socially and economically neutral … but does it trickle down to the community?” Cr Thurley said.
“We don’t believe that definition is adequate.”
MDBA executive director Colin Mues said on-farm investments were important and would avoid economic harm.
“Even though our analysis shows that water recovery has sometimes had a large impact on irrigated activity, the impacts would have been even larger had it not been for the Australian government’s infrastructure investments,” he said.