A commitment to look off-farm for future water recovery has been warmly welcomed by irrigators.
The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, which met in Canberra last week, also agreed to develop criteria to assess neutral or beneficial social and economic outcomes that took account of wider regional impacts.
“The reality in the Basin is that all water recovery has an impact on the wider community,” Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland said.
“Irrigators have long been highlighting that the impact of water recovery is cumulative, and we are pleased the Ministerial Council are going to have another look.
“Recent assessments by the Victorian Government and the MDBA clearly show the Basin Plan has already had significant social and economic impacts. Credit to the Ministerial Council for taking that on board.”
Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud expected a review of the criteria would be completed by the end of the year.
“The 450GL will only be delivered with neutral or positive social and economic outcomes. MINCo has agreed to this,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Given this, we need further work to develop detailed additional criteria defining neutral or positive socio-economic impacts. We'll aim to have this done by Christmas.”
NSW Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair said the meeting marked a significant step forward towards safeguarding vulnerable rural communities.
He said the long-standing participation test used to assess the socio-economic impacts of water recovery failed to take into account the second-order effects of water recovery.
“We have a duty to look after the whole community, the suppliers, trucking companies, or other businesses which would be potentially worse off because of the way water would be recovered, and we take this duty seriously.” Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said Victoria had always argued taking any further water from irrigators in the state’s major food bowl would cause significant social and economic harm.
The Basin Plan requires that up to 450GL of water for the environment is secured through water-use efficiency measures by 2024.