New South Wales’s (NSW) water minister has said that his state will not be able to meet its June 2024 deadline to deliver the water savings it had agreed to, and has instead called for an exemption.
Victoria’s water minister has also joined NSW in calling for an exemption following a review by the state’s productivity commission that said “2024 is not a realistic deadline for all aspects of the [Murray Darling] basin plan,” reported The Guardian.
“NSW has been working hard to achieve as much as possible by 2024, however the reality is more time and funding is needed to deliver the outcomes intended under the basin plan,” NSW state’s water minister Kevin Anderson said.
“I will be raising this issue at [next month’s] ministerial council where I will call for more time and flexibility and will be arguing strongly to represent the interest of regional communities in NSW.”
This comes a day after federal Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek, approved the first water resource plan from New South Wales. This plan states that NSW is responsible for 20 of the 33 Basin water resource plans, which were originally due to be in place in 2019.
“Every other jurisdiction has accredited plans in place. We’ve been waiting for NSW, who are responsible for the bulk of the water resource plans,” Plibersek said in a statement.
However, states that fail to deliver the water by the legislated deadline may trigger buybacks of entitlement from the agricultural sector.
“Buybacks would run the risk of collapsing food and fibre production in South Australia, Victoria, and southern NSW,” Anderson said. “This is why NSW has been calling for the basin plan to focus on outcomes, not numbers.”
Meanwhile, the NSW Government is developing a Landholder Negotiation Framework to protect the interests of farmers and landholders impacted by increased river flows as a result of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
NSW water minister Kevin Anderson said that landholders’ rights need to be protected, starting with no compulsory acquisitions.
“The framework is designed to put the interests of landholders front and centre and ensure all negotiations are open, transparent, fair and equitable,” Anderson said.
Basin Plan Needs to be ‘Reviewed’
In 2017, the basin states and the federal government agreed to recover 605 gigalitres of water each year through 36 Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) projects across the southern connected Murray-Darling Basin.
NSW is responsible for 21 Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) projects.
But many projects have either not begun or been altered significantly such that the promised water to be delivered by NSW would not be achieved by the deadline.
For example, NSW’s Better Baaka program, has proposed changes to the Menindee Lakes Sustainable Diversion Limits Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) project, and instead investigated options that might be supported by the community.
“What I think we need to take into consideration here is the broader concept of water recovery and making our rivers healthy right across the basin, from the north right through to the south,” Anderson said in an estimates hearing (pdf) on Sept. 2.
“I’m asking for the basin plan to be reviewed. I think that the volumetric number that was set 10 years ago doesn’t reflect the environment that we are now in.”
Currently, only seven of the 20 plans have been submitted by NSW.
“The NSW government has had nearly 10 years to deliver on the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the commitments it signed up for,” Plibersek said.
Additionally, under the plan, an additional 450 gigalitres of water is to be recovered through “efficiency measures,” which is also expected to be completed by 2024.
But only 2 gigalitres of water have been recovered under this measure.
Moreover, South Australia’s water minister Susan Close has urged Plibersek to take a hard stance against NSW.
“If basin states are not able to meet their commitments, then I’d urge the commonwealth to intervene to recover the remaining water through whatever means required,” Close said.
In July, Plibersek admitted that delivering a key component to the Murray Darling Basin Plan before the 2024 deadline would be “next to impossible.”
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is expected to produce a progress report on SDLAM projects in November.