Minister Katrina Hodgkinson

“I resolutely maintain that the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan in its current form does not meet the needs of NSW” … Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson. Photo: Richard Briggs

NSW will receive nearly half a billion dollars in federal funding to improve water use along the Murray-Darling river system, under a deal to be announced today.

The money is a sweetener to get the government to come to the negotiating table with the federal government over its plan to buy back 2750 billion litres of water a year to restore the river system to health.

”I am determined that Murray-Darling Basin reform deliver healthy rivers, strong communities and sustainable food production,” the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, told The Sun-Herald before the announcement. “A resilient river system in the Murray-Darling Basin is important for communities, sustainable food production and the environment.”

The $469 million has been held up for four years while the projects were assessed and refined, and was a major sticking point in keeping the NSW government from negotiating with Canberra about its plans for the basin.

The money will be spent on four main projects which will save an estimated 80 billion litres of water being wasted through inefficient piping and other infrastructure.

The NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, welcomed the money but said it would not influence her position in negotiations with the federal government.

“I resolutely maintain that the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan in its current form does not meet the needs of NSW,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

Last month, Mr Burke said he was prepared to act alone on a plan to rescue the ailing Murray-Darling river system this year if the states refused to co-operate.

The independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority maintains the federal government needs to buy back 2750 billion litres of water a year from irrigators to pump back into the environment. This would be done mostly through buybacks of irrigators’ water rights, which farmers say could destroy their communities.

Environmentalists say the water is not enough to ensure the river system’s long-term survival.

Under federal law, Mr Burke has the power to strip the states of water planning responsibility, which he has warned he will do if the states do not agree to the plan. The federal and state governments will meet again at the end of the month.