New research from The Australia Institute and Conservation SA shows that money previously earmarked to return 450 gigalitres (GL) of water to the environment in South Australia may be used to upgrade over 1200 bridges and increase water storage capacity in New South Wales irrigation districts.
The report investigates the current project proposals under the Federal Government’s $1.48 billion off-farm water efficiency program and finds that many of the initiatives have little or no prospect for genuine water recovery.
- Only 2.1GL of the 450GL (0.46%) of the environmental water that was promised to SA has so far been recovered, despite $68 million having been spent from the corresponding account.
- The Federal Water Minister’s recent decision to cancel the on-farm ‘Water Efficiency Program’ means off-farm projects are now the only form of water recovery left to deliver the 450GL.
- An analysis of the projects being considered by the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council under the off-farm efficiency program has found many have little or no prospect of returning water to the environment.
- The Australia Institute and Conservation SA have recommended a full audit and reconsideration of the program before any projects are approved.
“Using money that was intended to increase the amount of environmental water in the Murray to build unrelated infrastructure upstream would be a bridge too far,” said Kate McBride, report author and Anne Kantor Fellow at The Australia Institute.
“Transparency, accountability and the efficient use of resources must be at the heart of decision making within the Murray Darling Basin, but the lack of clarity surrounding this program is concerning.
“More scrutiny of this program is required to ensure the environment is not let down, once again, by the implementation of the Murray Basin Plan,” Ms McBride said.
“The commitment to deliver this additional 450GL was a deciding factor for South Australia agreeing to the Basin Plan,” said Craig Wilkins, Chief Executive of Conservation SA.
“Minister Pitt himself has acknowledged that the lower Murray will be the first area to suffer if there are any shortfalls or delays in this water being delivered.
“We are calling for the release of project details and for the Water Ministers in the basin states to commit to buying back water if the recovery target is not met by the 2024 deadline,” Mr Wilkins said.