The prime minister will personally oversee the Murray-Darling Basin plan under an agreement to keep more water in the Riverina.
Senator Nick Xenophon had this week demanded an extra 450 billion litres of water be sent down the Murray to South Australia, which local farmers dubbed the “most deplorable acts of political blackmail in Australian history”.
Basin plan legislation clearly states the 450GL can only be sent downstream if there will be a “zero socio-economic impact”, but Mr Xenephon was refusing to play ball with the government on any legislation until he got his way.
Growers feared the extra environmental water could flood Riverina towns and cities – including Wagga – and would be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for farmers who’ve maximised cropping efficiency.
The circuit-breaker came in the form of an assurance from prime minister Turnbull to South Australian premier Jay Weatherill that the Murray-Darling would be discussed with premiers, not just water ministers.
Deniliquin-based Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Graeme Pyle was glad to see the back of “silly games”.
“I truly hope this is the last time we see the Basin Plan being politicised,” Mr Pyle said.
“South Australian politicians who have refused to consider anything apart from ‘give us more water’ beggars belief in a nation like Australia where we are supposed to look after each other.
“They do not care what the social cost is to communities in eastern states, nor the economic cost to the nation, (which) is un-Australian.”
Griffith Business Chamber water spokesman Paul Pierotti said Wagga’s economy had dodged a bullet.
“An extra 450GL would annihilate the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA), because we're the biggest irrigation area and we'd have to give up the most,” Mr Pierotti said.
“Even though Wagga thinks of itself as a city, it’s a regional centre that relies on agricultural communities around it, all of which would be decimated.”
Recent studies show the MDBA has cost the Goulburn Valley in northern Victoria $550 million a year.
Mr Pierotti said 70GL was retained in the northern basin to save 200 jobs, which equates to 1575 job losses should 450 billion litres be sent downstream.