That was the resounding feeling as irrigators and politicians came to terms with the outcome of the Ministerial Council meeting between state and federal water ministers regarding the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Meeting in Canberra on June 8, water ministers reiterated the agreement that the controversial 450Gl of ‘up-water’ for the environment would only be delivered with neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes.
It was also agreed that no water would be taken from irrigators in Victoria or NSW as the basin states take the first step to delivering the 450Gl.
Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group spokesperson and Mooroopna orchardist Peter Hall said the decision would relieve the pressure on farmers worried about the security of water supply and affordability if the 450Gl was recovered from farmers.
‘‘Farmers from this region have contributed more water to the environment under the basin plan than any other region,’’ Mr Hall said.
‘‘The environment needs more water, but it hasn’t come cheap for our community, with reduced production and losses in jobs, services industries and our town businesses.
‘‘We are pleased to see the basin ministers take our concerns about causing further hardship seriously, and step back from the brink.’’
While she echoed Mr Hall’s sentiments, Victorian Shadow Water Minister Steph Ryan also called for greater clarity moving forward and for Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville to be fully transparent regarding the projects Victoria would put forward to find efficiencies through off-farm projects.
Ms Ryan also called on Ms Neville to guarantee she would not ‘‘trade away’’ the 75Gl of water to be returned to irrigators from stage one of the Connections project by June 2019.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland welcomed the decision to revisit the assessment of socio-economic impacts and said irrigators had long known that the impact of water recovery was cumulative.
‘‘Recent assessments by the Victorian Government and the MDBA clearly show that the basin plan has already had significant social and economic impacts,’’ Mrs Coupland said.
The future of the basin plan was declared ‘‘back on track’’ by Federal Water Minister David Littleproud following the meeting.
It was thrown into doubt earlier in the year when federal Labor blocked changes that would have given more water to irrigators in southern Queensland and northern NSW.
A deal between the government and the Opposition salvaged the plan and saw agreements reached to return 605Gl to the consumptive pool and an agreement on the 450Gl of ‘up-water’.
Framework transparency urged
New frameworks to determine socio-economic outcomes from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan must not take place behind closed doors.
That’s the view of Goulburn Valley Environmental Group president John Pettigrew, who has called for irrigators and environmentalists to be consulted on the new frameworks.
State and federal water ministers agreed to revisit the framework that determines whether outcomes from the basin plan are positive, neutral or negative at a June 8 Ministerial Council meeting.
Yet Mr Pettigrew said he held concerns about who would be able to contribute to the final model.
‘‘We’ve been very critical on some of the modelling on this very issue, especially by the local GMID (Goulburn Murray Irrigation District) Water Leadership Group and up into NSW,’’ he said.
‘‘Everyone wants to stamp their own definition on it ... I hope there is a genuine attempt (to involve all parties).’’
In his view previous research into the impacts of the basin plan had failed to place enough emphasis on the positive impacts of the plan, including the $2billion Connections project.
Questions also need to be raised regarding a decision to not undertake any more on-farm works in Victoria and NSW, Mr Pettigrew said.
He believes many irrigators will be ‘‘disappointed’’ if there will be no more investment on-farm as a result of the Ministerial Council decision.
‘‘Some of the loudest voices against these programs are the ones that benefited the most in earlier rounds,’’ he said.
‘‘Those benefits will never be lost.’’