There are growing calls for a halt to federal government buyouts of water from Murray Darling Basin communities, following the release of damning figures showing key towns bleeding jobs and populations.
The Murray Darling Basin Authority (MBDA) released data this week; providing an overview of how much irrigation water, population and employment has declined across 45 communities located across the southern basin.
The MIA has been among the hardest hit. Hay, for example, has lost a quarter of its irrigation water and total workforce since 2001.
Hillston and Yanco have each lost more than 40 per cent of its total full-time jobs, while Coleambally has bleed more than one-fifth.
Most of the jobs lost across the Basin have occurred since 2007, when the federal government began buying back water from irrigation communities.
Griffith Business Chamber president Paul Pierotti said, “this is a disaster for basin communities – so much for the bottom triple line”.
Mr Pierotti does not believe there is enough evidence the pain inflicted on basin communities has led to better environmental outcomes.
He has called for a five to ten year moratorium on water acquisition to allow a full evaluation of how much water is needed for the environment.
“A moratorium would help us achieve the most effective use of our most precious resource”.
MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde, however, played down the negative impact of water recovery.
“The profiles illustrate socio-economic trends in Basin communities over the past 15 years—but it is particularly important to understand that the Basin Plan is just one of many factors feeding into the social and economic changes shown in the data, and that these changes cannot simply be attributed to the Basin Plan,” Mr Glyde said.
“What we are seeing is that many Basin communities are experiencing similar socio-economic trends—regardless of the amount of water recovery in those communities.
“These are trends that are reflected across both irrigation–dependent and non–irrigation dependent communities in the Basin.
The debate over the impact of water buybacks on the environment and local economies comes at time the future of the Basin Plan is in peril.
The NSW and Victorian governments reiterated their desire to withdraw from the Plan, after Labor senators joined the Greens in a Senate vote on Wednesday to block a move that would have cut environment water flows.
Federal member for Farrer Sussan Ley backed the NSW and Victorian governments moves, concerned that the Senate vote will damage basin communities further.
“Almost all of the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys are in my electorate of Farrer. We have worked hard, given up much, prepared for a future with less water and once again we confront an uncertain future.
“Line by line, farm by farm, family by family, we worked it through. In return we have been punished by Labor playing politics with all of our futures.
“Today, we say ‘enough is enough’.”
“Farmer Helen Dalton, who stood as a candidate at the recent Murray by-election, said the death of the Basin Plan would bring some much needed respite to basin communities.
“Let’s face it, every drop of water that leaves our area is like losing a drop of health care, or education”.