The report by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, released today, calls on governments to guarantee recovery of the full 3,200 gigalitres.
So far two-thirds has been recovered and the group wants more progress on securing the remaining 1,200 gigalitres, including the controversial top-up 450 gigalitres.
“Without substantial changes, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will fail,” it says.
“Thirteen billion dollars of taxpayers’ money will be spent, communities will be hurt, industries will face ongoing uncertainty and the river systems will continue to degrade.”
Lead author Jamie Pittock insists the extra 450 gigalitres is critical to recover enough water to achieve environmental thresholds.
“If we dip below that level, what we’re seeing is the river dying from the bottom up,” he told ABC radio.
It proposes setting aside 10 per cent of the remaining $5.9 billion to help regional communities most affected by water recovery.
The $600 million could go towards initiatives to help restructure their economies to adapt to a future with less water.
The report argues water recovery has compounded the many other economic pressures facing rural and regional Australia.
While individual irrigators have benefited from water buybacks, less than one per cent of the overall $13 billion has been made available to assist communities, it says.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who is in London ahead of trade talks, says against all odds the plan is going well.
He said an independent assessment is underway about putting the additional 450 gigalitres back into the river system – something Labor agrees with.
“If it hurts (communities) too much then that’s against what the legislation says,” he told ABC radio.
“It’s a very contentious issue and we’re going to try and resolve it.”
The basin authority’s chief executive Phillip Glyde said he understood the frustration of the scientists, but said they’re five years into a 12-year plan and excellent progress has been made.
“I think any environmental scientist would recognise you don’t turn around 100 years of overuse of the basin in five years,” he said.
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