The Murray-Darling Basin Plan will be extended to give water saving projects more time to come to fruition, the federal Water Minister has announced.
The plan is predicted to fall hundreds of gigalitres short when it hits its mid-2024 deadline.
Water Minister Tanya Plibersek requested an independent assessment from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which found there is no pathway to deliver the plan on time.
The MDBA stated the plan is likely to fall around 750GL short of its targets.
The length of the extension is unknown and Ms Plibersek will work with the basin state Water Ministers to seek an agreement on the new phase.
Ms Plibersek laid the plan's failure entirely at the feet of the previous Coalition government, who spent a "decade sabotaging the plan".
More than 80 per cent of water was recovered under Labor governments, she said, with less than 20pc of the water recovered occurring in the last decade under the Liberals and Nationals.
"Let me be clear - the Albanese government is committed to delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, which includes the extra 450GL of water for the environment," Ms Plibersek said.
"But the truth is, no government can catch up on nine years' o sabotage in just two years. As the independent advice tells us, we have to extend the timeframes. That's the reality of what we inherited."
It's understood the federal government will also pair the plan's extension with changes to the Water Act, in a bid to remove legislation that restricts water recovery.
Ms Plibersek has previously cited the socio-economic testing for water buybacks as "brown tape, because it's keeping the country dry".
Several reports have indicated the plan would not be delivered in time, but the formal advice gives the federal government justification to amend the plan.
The MDBA has indicated some of the water saving infrastructure projects being constructed by state governments are five to 10 years away from completion.
Ms Plibersek said the next drought was around the corner, and communities and the environment would suffer if the nation didn't prepare for dry years.
"When the temperature gets hotter again, when the rain stops falling and the river stops flowing, we will seriously regret it if we don't act now," Ms Plibersek said.
"We don't want Australians to wake up one day with a dead river system and find out their governments could've stopped it."
- 16 key SDLAM projects unlikely to be operable by 30 June 2024
- Estimates shortfall in water recovery of between 190 and 315 gigalitres
- Little progress has been made in achieving the 450GL efficient targets. This water will not be recovered by June 30, 2024, as required under current settings.
- Only 5 of 20 water resource plans in NSW have been accredited. The plans are more than four years behind schedule, and seven plans are yet to be submit for assessment.
- Critical measures for improving outcomes in the Northern Basin will not be delivered on time. Only two of six are on track for delivery by mid-2024. The remaining four measures are expected to take longer, delaying the achievement of environmental outcomes.
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