THE federal government is more than halfway to achieving its target of water to return to the environment under the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The latest figures were revealed last week in a hearing of the House of Representatives Committee for Regional Australia.
The draft plan calls for 2750 gigalitres of water to be taken from productive use through infrastructure savings and irrigator buybacks.
Information tabled by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC) showed 1401GL had already been recovered by the end of May this year.
Only 217 gigalitres of the water has come from infrastructure projects, a figure that directly contradicts the water minister’s pledge to prioritise infrastructure funding over buyback of water rights.
Earlier this month, the federal government committed $500 million to four water-saving projects in NSW, which are expected to return a further 80 gigalitres to the Murray-Darling system.
That means the government only has 1190 gigalitres left to recover – and the plan is still working its way through the political process.
“This plan hasn’t had a mandate from the nation’s politicians and the states certainly haven’t agreed on it – this is government policy by stealth,” Murrumbidgee High Security Irrigators CEO Brian Halse said.
“While we do appreciate that the environment has needs, this way of doing it is not good for rural communities like ours.
“It’s fine for the government to believe they need all of this water but we still don’t have an environmental watering plan to tell us what they need it for.”
The parliamentary inquiry, led by Independent MP Tony Windsor, will also investigate whether there should be an automatic adjustment to the plan’s target figure when it comes up for review in 2015.