South Australia has pulled the plug on a package of water saving measures along the Murry-Darling Basin after the failure of the nation's water ministers to commit to promised environmental flows down the river.
The action, at a meeting in Albury on Tuesday, prompted claims of blackmail from Victoria and NSW.
But South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunter said without a commitment to deliver the promised 450 gigalitres in extra water through the system, SA would not agree to change the basin plan.
“We cannot operate in good faith with basin ministers who are not willing to work for the benefit of all basin states,” Mr Hunter said.
“The 450 gigalitres is not an optional part of the basin plan. It was agreed to in 2012 and we have to deliver it.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Victoria and NSW had proposed a range of water saving projects to recover 605 gigalitres upstream without the need for further buybacks from irrigators.
NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair said that in blocking the plan, South Australia was putting politics ahead of local communities.
“NSW and Victoria offered up a way to move forward and commence early action towards additional water savings that deliver clear social and economic benefits but it was knocked on the head by South Australia,” Mr Blair said.
“This is a disappointing outcome.
“Our communities can’t be held to ransom, our communities won’t be blackmailed.”
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville levelled similar criticism at SA’s action.
“South Australia has pretty much tried to hold hostage or blackmail the Victorian and New South Wales communities saying that they will oppose those measures unless we agree to the 450 gigs of additional water,” she said.
“We also received a report that made it very clear that we cannot deliver that 450 gigs without significant impact on farmers and on our irrigation districts.”
Ms Neville said South Australia’s attitude was threatening the progress of the basin plan.
Tuesday’s ministerial meeting was the first since allegations were raised of widespread water theft across the river system.
South Australia has announced a royal commission into the allegations and also the integrity of the basin plan itself which is designed to deliver environmental flows and ensure the river system remains a viable resource.
Ms Neville said Victoria had always wanted a national inquiry but was happy with a proposed independent review of all the various investigations into water compliance issues.