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Secret water buyback deal slammed

Shadow Minister for Water, Senator Perin Davey says water buybacks have damaged irrigation dependent communities like Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett and Collarenebri. Photo contributed

Tricia Duffield

The state’s peak farming group has slammed secret water buyback plans that will hurt rural communities in NSW.

Last week The Land revealed that state water ministers had agreed to almost 50 gigalitres of buybacks at last month’s Ministerial Council meeting, with most of that water coming from NSW.

According to The Land, the Department of Climate Change, the Environment and Water staff revealed the decision was to secure 46 gigalitres of surface water and 3 gigalitres of groundwater “through strategic purchases” to meet water recovery targets under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

It is understood 10 gigalitres will come from the NSW Murray, 9.5 gigalitres from the Namoi, 5.1 gigalitres from the NSW Border Rivers, 1.6 gigalitres from the Barwon-Darling, and 0.9 gigalitres from the Lachlan river.

NSW Farmers Conservation Committee chair, Louise Burge said the decision, which was secret until revealed by the media, was “outrageous”.

“This is pure politics, and it’s irresponsible given the situation our communities are in at the moment,” Mrs Burge said.

“Communities have been warning governments about the impact of this relentless pursuit of water buybacks for 12 years now, because we have seen firsthand that they devastate towns and reduce food and fibre production.

“This decision will further cut the amount of food farmers can grow at a time when families are dealing with rising food prices, it’s just outrageous.”

It comes after The Weekly Times revealed bureaucrats had urged Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek to “accelerate” water recovery and downplay socio-economic impacts.

Mrs Burge said communities were already concerned about an increased flood risk because of the flow targets set by water managers, and warned increased environmental flows would spill across towns and paddocks.

She demanded urgent answers from state and federal water ministers about who would define what buybacks were “strategic”, the timing of the purchases, and what impact they would have on communities.

“There’s only so much water that can go down these rivers before they flood out all over the countryside like we’re seeing at the moment,” she said.

“There are better ways to achieve environmental outcomes than water buybacks, and communities deserve the truth.”

Spokesman for Barwon-Darling Water, Ian Cole, said that buying back more water would make food more expensive and would lead to more job losses at Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett, and other Barwon-Darling communities.

Mr Cole said that farmers were extremely disappointed that within months of returning to government, Labor was proposing water buybacks, despite the damage they had previously caused at Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett, and Collarenebri.

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