The Morrison McCormack Government is delivering on its commitment to focus on off-farm projects to recover environmental water in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, is announcing the Water Efficiency Program (WEP) will close and be replaced by a water saving program that does not impact farmers’ water entitlements.

“My priority is to put communities back at the heart of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and this is another step in that process,” Minister Pitt said.

“The WEP has not worked as it was expected to – not for returning water to a healthy river and certainly not for communities who deserve as much water as possible to remain economically and socially productive, and to underpin local jobs.

“The WEP has recovered just 0.2GL since 2019 – that’s 0.04% of the 450GL target of additional water for river health outcomes that out government is committed to recovering.

“We are closing the program and replacing it with a new approach that will focus the more than $1.5 billion available in the Water for the Environment Special Account on securing water by improving the efficiency of off-farm irrigation infrastructure.

“Off-farm water recovery means we can actually progress our river health targets and, unlike on-farm programs we do not reduce water availability in the consumptive pool.”

Member for Barker Tony Pasin said the new approach will be welcomed.

“Our government is doing what we said we’d do – getting on with the job and putting the focus back on local communities and irrigators,” Mr Pasin said.

“This is another common sense change that provides farmers and irrigators with the certainty they need to plan for the future.

By putting an end to buybacks and investing in off-farm water efficiency, we’re prioritising and protecting our communities and farmers,” Mr Pasin said.

“It’s great to see the Minister and the Government have listened to the concerns that people across the Basin have raised with me and are taking action.”

Minister Pitt said the new program can help meet that Basin Plan targets.

“Through the new Off-farm Efficiency Program we will make $1.33 billion available for state-led off-farm projects as well as $150 million in direct grants. $60 million will enable those states who wish to pursue limited on-farm water efficiency to continue to do so, providing the strict social and economic neutrality test set by the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council is met.

“We’ve been doing the legwork so we can get on with the job, identifying about 50 off-farm projects that can form the core of our work program. Ten of these projects could start within 3 to 12 months, fast-tracking works that can benefit local economies and save water.”