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Altered Murray-Darling Basin plan criticised

A new version of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan put forward by the Murray Darling Basin Authority on Monday has drawn criticism from basin community representatives.

RENEE THOMPSON August 9, 2012 4:24am

A new version of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan put forward by the Murray Darling Basin Authority on Monday has drawn criticism from several basin community representatives.

Instead of the previous 2750Gl target, the new draft proposes a water recovery target of between 2400Gl and 3200Gl, which would be adjusted based on water-saving measures.

Member for Rodney Paul Weller and the National Farmers’ Federation have added their voices to a number of state and federal leaders critical of the new draft.

On Tuesday, Mr Weller echoed Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh’s comments that the MDBA’s latest draft did not sufficiently address the issues.

Mr Weller said the revised basin plan would cost hundreds of jobs in northern Victoria and was ‘‘unacceptable’’.

‘‘If you take another 300-400Gl of water out of northern Victoria, that is the ‘death knell’ for a number of communities,’’ he said.

‘‘That amount of water would produce enough milk for two milk factories.’’

NFF president Jock Laurie said the new draft failed to find the crucial balance called for by various irrigator groups, the community and last month’s Ministerial Council consensus document.

‘‘A month ago we welcomed the Ministerial Council’s directive to the authority that more attention be paid to ways to maximise the river systems’ efficiency through infrastructure, environmental works and measures and river operations,’’ he said.

‘‘The ministers called for an adjustment mechanism that would reduce the amount of water needed for the environment through improving the efficient use of water already in the system.

‘‘Investing in infrastructure, environmental works and measures and efficient river operations would make the water in the system work harder and, as a result, the sustainable diversion limit would decrease.

‘‘Yet from Monday’s report we can only conclude that this adjustment mechanism has been turned into an opportunity to take more water from the system, claiming that infrastructure would increase the sustainable diversion limit.

‘‘The NFF rejects using irrigation infrastructure to increase the limit.’’

However, Federal Water Minister Tony Burke, speaking to ABC Rural on Tuesday, said the new draft did include a sustainable adjustment mechanism that would allow irrigators to meet the same outcomes with less water taken away.

He said there was a ‘‘critical rule’’ to whether or not the figure was adjusted down to 2400Gl or up to 3200Gl.

‘‘The critical rule, if the number goes down, is you still have to be meeting the same environmental outcomes, and that allows for environmental works and measures to be there as a way of working effectively, in place of buybacks. ‘‘(And) if the number goes up, it can only be done in ways that don’t have negative impacts on communities.’’

Mr Burke said the latest plan was ‘‘an improvement on the last draft’’ while suggesting there was still work that needed to be done ‘‘until it’s right’’.

State governments have three weeks to respond to the latest draft.

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