The release of a "road map" for water management in the Murray Darling Basin that outlines how much water can be taken from the supply has raised the hackles of farmers and long-time water management activists.
Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) chairman Sir Angus Houston said the Murray Darling Basin Plan will shape the future of water management in the region into the 2030s, but detractors say the scheme is disastrous for agriculture and will lead to more expensive groceries at the supermarket.
At heart of the dispute are "buybacks" which are designed to retain water for the environment.
The government buys back water entitlements from farmers which reduces the amount of water taken from the river system.
The MDBA report sets new rules on how much water can be taken from the system, ensuring the sustainable diversion limit is not exceeded over time.
"Getting the plans right can take time," the report states. "Local communities must have confidence that the plans are robust and high quality. Water resource plans will continue to evolve and adapt over time as new and improved information becomes available and will be adjusted and re-accredited in the future."
Barham farmer Lloyd Polkinghorne, who is deputy chairman of the Speak Up Campaign, said a plan was needed but questioned the effectiveness of what was on the table.
"I have to agree with the professor in that having a plan to balance the environmental, social and economic needs of the basin is a noble intent," Mr Polkinghorne said.
"Changes were indeed required to water management, however, the current process has neither balance, wisdom, environmental outcomes, nor the best interests of the Australian people at heart."
Finley farmer Andrew Hateley agreed.
"The Murray-Darling Basin Plan, as the centre-piece of water policy, is an unmitigated disaster," he said.
"Following job losses due to water buybacks it is incredulous that buybacks would ever be again considered by any government.
"The MDBA's own data shows us that 3,261 full-time equivalent job losses were attributed to water recovery across 40 southern Murray-Darling Basin communities from 2001 to 2016. That is a staggering figure."
Tocumwal resident Sue Braybon, a supporter of the Speak Up Campaign, said agriculture had suffered for years.
"These buybacks have the potential to devastate the nation's primary food bowl in northern Victoria and southern NSW, and this will inevitably lead to higher prices for produce at the supermarket," she said.
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