LOCAL leaders have reacted with horror at revelations more than 80 per cent of water reclaimed under the Murray Darling Basin Plan has come from buybacks.
A Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra on Monday revealed only a fraction of the 1100GL-plus so far retrieved has been from infrastructure upgrades.
While buying back water from farmers is more cost-effective for the government, it comes at a devastating cost to irrigation communities, stripping productive water and future income from towns and increasing delivery costs for remaining farmers.
Long-time anti-buyback campaigner and Griffith Business Chamber president Paul Pierotti described the level of buyback, revealed for the first time this week, as "staggering".
"This is just a cheap and easy grab from a government that has never had the will to implement a real infrastructure strategy," Mr Pierotti said.
"It is extremely destructive and we know it's done a lot of damage to our economy already, both by reducing income and sapping confidence.
"It's time we stopped talking about what's been done through this appalling process and start talking about what both sides of government are prepared to do to compensate us for it."
He said the NSW government's promise to cap buybacks to 3 per cent, per valley, per decade was welcome but the "damage has already been done".
Riverina MP Michael McCormack said the level of buybacks was hard evidence the federal government was not serious about safeguarding irrigation communities.
"We now know that for every dollar spent on upgrading infrastructure and on and off-farm efficiencies, $5 is spent on water buybacks," Mr McCormack said.
"Infrastructure upgrades would give the same environmental outcome, but without the pain. What we need to do is change this government and ensure Tony Abbott holds his word about limiting the amount retrieved to 1500GL and putting in place the NSW government cap."
The Area News asked water minister Tony Burke for a response to claims the government was focused too heavily on buyback and received a one-line written reply.
"Infrastructure projects take some years to complete, that's why they are accounted for in future years," Mr Burke said.