Southern Queensland irrigators and community leaders are warning against any further water buybacks in the region, following news that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is poised to fall up to 315 gigalitres short of its water recovery target.
Addressing the National Rural Press Club, Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief executive Andrew McConville said the government had "no choice" but to start planning how to make up for the shortfall.
The MDBA has assessed the progress of state governments' water saving developments - known as SDLAM projects - and found they would only deliver between between 290 and 415 of the 605GL required by mid-2024.
"Put another way, we expect a shortfall of between 190 and 315 gigalitres," Mr McConville said.
The shortfall could be much higher, as the estimation does not include the 450GL of environmental water, of which only 4GL has been recovered. To put the figure in perspective, Sydney Harbour is roughly 500GL.
By law, the federal government is obligated to recover any remaining water, which would most likely involve voluntary water licence buybacks.
While his water take from the Balonne River is regulated relevant to the river's flow as measured at Jack Taylor Weir at St George, Dirranbandi farmer Jonathan Burrell said previous buyback schemes had negatively impacted the commerce of the local community, and threatened to cause even more harm.
"We've already suffered enough losses," he said. "They've targeted our area to retrieve as much water as possible, to help people downstream."
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Balonne Shire Council Mayor Samantha O'Toole was in no doubt that communities in her shire could not sustain and would not support any further water buybacks in any way.
"The Murray Darling Basin Authority Northern Basin Review has previously confirmed that water buybacks undertaken in our shire have had enormous and devastating impacts on the sustainability and viability of our nationally significant agricultural industry, and associated rural industries," she said.
She cited an estimated loss of 27 per cent of irrigation area, plus a drop of more than 15pc of agriculture and non-agriculture private sector jobs since water buybacks commenced.
"Further, school enrolments dropped by 50pc in the five years prior to that report being released," she added, saying the 2016 report clearly demonstrated that businesses in the shire were under significant stress as a result of buybacks.
"We recognise the efforts of the Australian government in acknowledging and attempting to address some of the issues created by water buybacks.
"However, based on the modelling conducted as part of the MDBA report, it is clear that farms within our shire cannot sustain any further buybacks without further aggravating the significant social and economic disruption already endured by our communities.
"Our river system is the lifeblood of our rural community and it is vital that we achieve a balance between the ongoing sustainability of our communities, our industries and the environment.
"We urge the government to work with our nationally significant agricultural sector to help achieve long-term sustainable water efficiency measures that do not cause significant impacts to our rural and remote community."
The MDBA has revealed it was investigating 46GL-worth of "strategic buybacks" with state governments.
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