Murray-Darling Basin Plan not over: Macquarie River Food and Fibre chairman Michael Egan

Macquarie River Food and Fibre chairman Michael Egan and executive officer Grant Buckley. Photo: JENNIFER HOAR
Macquarie River Food and Fibre chairman Michael Egan and executive officer Grant Buckley. Photo: JENNIFER HOAR

Communities along the Macquarie River will suffer as a result of “politicking” around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP), Macquarie River Food and Fibre chairman Michael Egan said.

An irrigator north of Warren, Mr Egan is in Dubbo this week for a meeting of the National Irrigators’ Council.

The MDBP is high on their agenda, after federal changes to secure an additional 70 gigalitres (GL) for Northern Basin farmers were voted down in the Senate on Wednesday.

State Water Minister Niall Blair is now preparing to withdraw NSW from the plan altogether, a move Mr Egan said was “expected”.

But Dubbo Healthy River ambassador Melissa Gray said “NSW must stay the course and stick with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan”.

“We call on Premier Berejiklian to right now take the water portfolio off the National party and recommit to implementing the MDBP in full and on time – that’s 3200 GL delivered to our rivers every year,” she said.

Mr Egan predicted the “politicking” between states and within federal Parliament could continue until May, when a Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (farming practices, or ways of achieving environmental outcomes with less water) package comes before the Parliament.

But he said uncertainty would hurt rural communities on the Macquarie River – including Warren, Narromine and Trangie.

“Politics has gone ahead of common sense,” he said.

“If the Northern Basin Review doesn’t go through … it just throws it into chaos.

“The irrigators are probably secondary … it’s the communities that are left behind … the small business people with the cafes, the machinery dealers, all the chemical resellers … they’re the people that suffer.”

Modelling from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) found 180 additional jobs would be at risk – including 25 in Warrren, 4 in Trangie and 41 in Narromine – across the Northern Basin unless the water recovery target was reduced from 390 GL to 320 GL.

Ms Gray said the Northern Basin review would have meant 12 GL less for the Macquarie Marshes, which are protected under international agreements.

“We’re struggling at the moment to keep the core of the Marshes alive, let alone healthy, with the water that we have,” she said. “Removing 12 billion litres … we would’ve permanently damaged the ecology of the Macquarie Marshes, potentially beyond repair.”