The $13 billion Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) is likely to change after the upcoming federal election. 

The MDBP is one of Australia’s largest and most ambitious environmental reforms, but with just two years to go before major water-saving deadlines must be met, politicians are wrangling over what to do if their required water is not found in time. 

The plan calls for 2,750 gigalitres of water to be given back to the rivers, with an additional 450GL to be recovered through efficiency projects.

Federal and state water ministers have an agreement signed back in 2018 to set strict criteria for how the 450GL could be recovered.

That agreement says no water can go toward the 450GL target unless it is done in a way that ensures no socio-economic harm to communities.

Just 2GL has been recovered toward the target so far. 

Federal Labor has pledged to deliver the 450GL for the environment if it is elected later this month, and may do so by buying the water back from farmers.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have attempted to legislate to axe the 450GL, outlaw any more Commonwealth buybacks and extend the deadline for water-saving projects beyond 2024, but failed. 

Plans from the federal Liberals are less clear, but federal Water Minister Keith Pitt (a National) says the Coalition government policy is definitely not to buy back water from farmers to meet the water savings deadlines.