Irrigation communities in southern Queensland and northern NSW are far from happy with a reduced water recovery target for their parts of the Murray-Darling Basin.
Following a review of the socioeconomic impact of the basin plan on local communities, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority announced on Tuesday a reduced target of 320 gigalitres, down from an initial level of 390GL.
But the #MoreThanFlow Campaign says that still takes too much water from production, and argues it should not be any higher than the 278GL taken out now.
“We cannot support any recommendation that will inflict more pain on communities or unilaterally reduce the reliability of entitlements,” spokesman Michael Murray said in Canberra.
The federal government has ordered a task force to look at how water recovery in the northern part of the basin affects communities.
Water storages across the entire basin are 80 per cent full following above-average winter and spring rains.
The task force has been asked to ensure further water recovery is managed in a way that avoids putting further strain on communities already doing it tough, federal Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce said.
“I welcome the reduced target and don’t want to see any more water taken out of basin communities than is absolutely necessary to secure the long-term health of the system,” he said.
“While significantly less water recovery will be required to meet the reduced target there will still be a gap to bridge.”
Mr Joyce said the basin plan was a balance between environmental outcomes and agricultural and economic needs.
“And one should never reign supreme over the others,” he later told ABC radio.
“You’ve got a moral responsibility for those doing it tough to not make their life tougher.”
The task force will look at investing in modern and efficient irrigation infrastructure that would help save water and increase farm productivity.
Labor has accused Mr Joyce of walking away from the basin plan after he wrote to South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunt and raised difficulties with returning an additional 450GL to the state.
The basin plan has a water recovery target of 2750GL, but includes a mechanism to increase that target by 450GL gigalitres.
Mr Joyce said basin governments were heading into “an unsolvable stalemate” with no proposal to deliver the extra water without causing extra socioeconomic pain.