Murray-Darling Basin state government ministers have agreed to commission a detailed report on socio-economic impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Murray River communities on both sides of the border have been advocating for a detailed study before more water is removed from productive use.
The report is due to be completed by December.
Under the plan, agreed to by the five states, the last 450Gl can only be delivered to the environment if there are no negative socio-economic effects.
Murray River communities also delivered a warning directly to the authority, in a special meeting the day prior to the ministerial conference.
Murray Group of Councils chairman Adrian Weston said they had concerns about the objectivity of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in doing the basin work.
‘‘It’s a question of trust between the community and the authority. In our opinion, it’s just not there at the moment,’’ Cr Weston said.
‘‘The MDBA developed the basin plan and is inextricably linked to it. That limits its capacity to objectively review the impact of the plan.’’
The group wants any future water savings from northern Victoria delivered by investing in irrigation infrastructure and initiatives that improve the efficiency of environmental watering.
‘‘The recovery of the 450Gl up-water can only go ahead if the socio-economic impact can be proven to be positive or neutral,’’ Cr Weston said.
Last week’s meeting outcome has been cautiously welcomed by State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed, who said the ministerial group had acknowledged the appeals by river communities for a thorough investigation on the impact of the removal of a further 450Gl from the southern basin.
Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers Campaign manager Juliet Le Feuvre said the rivers, the wildlife and the river communities needed the basin plan delivered in full with the full volume of water recovery.
‘‘We’re encouraged that the recovery of the 450Gl is still on the table, but we’re yet to see a detailed plan to deliver it,’’ Ms Le Feuvre said.
‘‘We’re concerned that the prime focus of their study will be on the negative impacts of the plan, without giving enough weight to the broader community and economic benefits of improved river health, such as increased tourism and recreational and cultural opportunities.’’
The new report is expected to be completed by December.
Australian Dairy Farmers has welcomed the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council’s agreed terms of reference for an independent analysis of socio-economic impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the southern basin.
The ADF described it as a sensible outcome.
Australian Dairy Industry Council Water Taskforce chair Daryl Hoey attended the forum with basin ministers in Mildura on Thursday evening, where the input of stakeholders was acknowledged.
Mr Hoey, from Katunga, said there would be serious implications for the dairy industry if any more water was removed from the collective pool (north and south) without first understanding the impact it would have to every district including South Australia, Queensland, northern NSW and Victoria.
‘‘We agree with government that the basin plan needs to protect all water uses — which is why it’s critical that we understand what the different water recovery levels mean for southern communities and the environment,’’ Mr Hoey said.
Agreement was also achieved on a way to secure the remaining 650Gl of water required under the plan without any more buybacks of water.
ADF along with the ADIC has long advocated for a comprehensive review of the socio-economic impact of the basin plan for the south.
‘‘We are committed to working with government to improve the management of water in the basin, achieve the necessary community buy-in, and achieve socio-economic outcomes while still meeting environmental targets,’’ Mr Hoey said.
‘Not just numbers’ says VFF
The VFF has accepted a plan to develop a socio-economic assessment on the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on southern basin communities, agreed upon last week at a meeting of basin ministers in Mildura.
In a proposal that will be presented at the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in June, the study will analyse supply measures to offset the basin plan water recovery target of 2750Gl by 2019 and potential socio-economic impacts of efficiency measures to recover an additional 450Gl by 2024.
‘‘We’re pleased to see the study will go beyond the requirements of the legislation in assessing the socio-economic neutrality of the efficiency measures,’’ VFF president David Jochinke said.
‘‘It must assess the impact on communities, businesses, and other rural enterprises, but we’ve always said it would be impossible to deliver an additional 450Gl in up-water savings without any negative impacts to basin communities.’’
Mr Jochinke said the new analysis must show in full detail the damage water recovery has had not just on Victorian farmers, but rural and regional towns and communities.
‘‘There have been several studies already, such as the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Leadership report and the Victorian Government’s socio-economic study, which have all shown the negative impacts of water recovery,’’ he said.
The VFF also welcomed an agreement to recover the remaining 650Gl in the basin plan without further water buybacks.
Mr Jochinke said the VFF would continue working with the Victorian Government to ensure Victorian irrigation communities were not affected by the basin plan recovery targets.
‘‘It’s great to see the state governments agree that the best approach is to focus on getting positive outcomes for communities, rather than simply recovery targets.
‘‘We need to remember that at the heart of this issue are families, livelihoods, and whole communities, not just numbers.’’