The government's proposed changes to the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) have moved one step closer after they reached a deal with the Greens party.
Community leaders across the Riverina have expressed their fury with the government, saying this deal will lead to the slow death of their communities.
Inquiries by the Senate, and Productivity Commission into the MDBP found it was significantly off track, and unlikely to achieve its goals without significant changes.
The total shortfall is predicted to be around 750GL at the end of 2024 - nearly a third of the total that was to be recovered before that time.
In August, an agreement was made between the federal, NSW, South Australia, Queensland and ACT governments to deliver the MDBP in full, and another 450GL of water for the environment.
Now the government has the support of the Greens, they need only two additional votes in the senate to pass proposed amendments to the plan.
Riverina farmer Louise Burge said the MDBP has never been about the environment. She has advocated on this issue for over a decade on behalf of small private irrigators and her local community.
She said the targets and plans set by the Murray Darling Basin Authority are unfair, and not based on sound science.
"The Water Act was part of a political solution ... both major parties were looking to sure up green credentials, and sadly they took a political response to drought," she said.
"The MDBA was established, and with very little experience managing water had to develop a plan. They relied on available information, primarily from South Australia, to set specific basin plan targets for South Australia.
"Was the science real? No. Are large volumes being sent down the Murray River the answer? No. The only conclusion any sane person could make is it was an incredibly successful marketing campaign for South Australia."
The key issue for many communities is water buybacks.
Farmers took to the streets in Riverina towns last week to protests this perceived threat to their communities.
While environment minister Tanya Plibersek has said the government intends to rely on on this as a "last resort", experts on the plan have said there is little chance it can be achieved through any other means.
Leeton mayor Tony Reneker is generally supportive of the MDBP, but is concerned the new bill will drop an existing test to make sure no community will be socio-economically disadvantaged through water buybacks.
He said members of his community don't trust the Labor government or MDBP to thoroughly explore options other than buybacks, because they are more expensive and more difficult.
"The domino effect of buybacks is increased water pricing, lower agricultural productivity and reduced food and fibre processing, leading to job losses, businesses closing down, and families leaving town.
"Once our big food processors start scaling down, we will reach a tipping point from which we can't return.
"It doesn't have to be this way - if governments have the will there are other smarter ways to help the environment without decimating rural economies."
NSW water minister Rose Jackson said she did not support water buybacks in NSW last week.
Federal MP for Riverina Michael McCormack blasted the government for dealing with the Greens on water.
He said asking the Greens for support on water policy was "preposterous", and the lack of support from the NSW minister demonstrated it was a bad idea.
"it's not what Labor says but what it does - by jumping into a waterbed with the Greens, Labor has again abandoned regional communities," he said.
"Even the NSW government water minister Rose Jackson does not support buybacks - why can't her Federal government counterpart see the damage this poor policy will cause?
"The ripple effect is massive and some centres do not recover."
Federal MP for Farrer Sussan Ley had even stronger words for the government. She said it was "loopy" to promise the additional environmental water could be delivered by 2027.
"Tanya Plibersek's dirty deal with the Greens is reckless in many ways. It firstly betrays the bipartisan agreement we reached in 2012 to balance economic, social, and environmental outcomes," she said.
"Our dams are full at a cost of up to $4 billion. Why on earth would you ask taxpayers to buy water that will effectively shut down smaller regional communities, and also increase food prices at the checkout? Lunacy!"
While the economic impact of water buybacks has been the centre of debate around MDBP changes, it is not the only concern in basin communities.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder has acknowledged the role the basin plan may have played in worsening floods over the last decade.
Ms Burge said the government's Restoring our Rivers bill will cement the failures of the MDBP.
She said a lack of critical water infrastructure means securing more water for the environment will inevitably lead to more destructive floods.
"Without going into details on megalitres, it's simple to say that to achieve a flow target, we actually require massive floods upstream on the Murray and or Murrumbidgee," she said.
"Even though flow targets are proven not to be realistic, are proven to cause elevated flooding risk, they're proceeding anyway.
"Where's it [the water] going to be stored? how's it going to be delivered, and how are they going to deliver it safely without flooding people on the Murrumbidgee, Murray, and Goulburn? The answer is very simple - they can't."
The Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 is before The Senate again November 29.