National

Basin plan deadline remains despite delays

By AAP Newswire

Water Minister Keith Pitt has hosed down calls to extend the Murray-Darling Basin Plan deadline despite being well behind on key water recovery targets.

An independent report last week found just 1.9 gigalitres of the 450 gigalitres earmarked for the environment had been recovered.

The review of the water for the environment special account found the 2024 deadline would not be met.

Mr Pitt acknowledged calls for the federal government to extend the plan's deadline to meet targets.

"Blowing out time frames at this stage just prolongs the uncertainty that basin communities face," he told the Murray Darling Association conference on Wednesday.

"Those communities deserve certainty and our partner governments should pull out all stops to deliver on their commitments."

The Morrison government has ruled out buybacks meaning basin plan targets will have to be met through other water-saving projects.

So far 1230 gigalitres have been recovered from farmers through buybacks, 700 gigalitres from infrastructure projects and 255 gigalitres from on-farm upgrades.

Mr Pitt's strategy for the remainder of the plan will rely on off-farm efficiency projects like improving irrigation channels and distribution systems.

About 2100 of the overall 2750 gigalitres basin plan target has been recovered.

"This is the difficult end," Mr Pitt said.

"The low-hanging fruit has already been taken, plucked and picked, moved and delivered.

"But we need to be focused on what the plan is about and that is about ensuring there is a balance for all users of the river."

He also pointed to $38 million in federal funding announced last week for river health projects in South Australia's Riverland.

"I don't want to see river health in downstream communities go backwards because of delays in delivering the target of 450 gigalitres," he said.

"It is the lower Murray that will feel any shortfalls and delays in the 450 gigalitre target most acutely."

The government is also promising to establish a one-stop shop for information about water across the basin to restore trust.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority's compliance activities are set to be merged into the office of the basin's inspector general.

Labor has criticised the delay in giving the interim inspector-general enforcement powers.