The full extent of the impact proposed water buybacks have on irrigation-reliant communities can easily be overlooked by those making the decisions in government.
The loss of even just one family can have a flow on effect which impacts the larger community and its ability to attract important services.
An analysis by NSW Irrigators Council (NSWIC) looking at the effect water buybacks have had on education in the southern NSW Murray-Darling Basin has highlighted a significant drop in enrolment since the last round of buybacks in 2012, with local principals associating the decrease to the lasting socioeconomic impacts of past purchases.
The analysis was supported by interviews with principals and demonstrates how water buybacks contribute to population losses, leading to fewer enrolments, subject choices and resources.
"When the Government buys water from farmers, it is the whole community that pays the price," NSWIC CEO Claire Miller said.
"One principal told us the water buybacks create anxiety and worry and there is a lot of angst in the community.
"The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has attributed more than 3260 full-time equivalent jobs lost across the southern Basin directly to the six Sydney Harbor's worth of water already purchased for the environment, and now the Federal Government wants to buy yet another Sydney Harbour's worth.
"Each job lost can mean a family leaves town, and schools lose students.
"One principal said losing one family could drop you a class or a teacher."
The NSWIC analysis found on average that an entire high school class worth of students has been lost in every NSW southern Murray-Darling Basin region following the 2012 water buybacks with declines in Albury, Deniliquin, and Griffith comparable to the loss of two classes of students.
The most significant decline in enrolments include:
Edwards River Councillor Linda Fawns, who is also a mixed farming irrigator near Deniliquin, has seen first hand the effects water buybacks have on a community.
"Our community has just got back to where we were before the last round of buybacks," Ms Fawns said.
"It has taken a decade to recover from those buybacks.
"Council has developed a plan to increase our population from the approximately 9000 residents we have now to 20,000 by 2050 as the reality is with communities under 10,000 people, it's hard to attract services.
"These buybacks actually create that uncertainty again, as we are an area where agriculture drives the region."
NSW Minister for Water, Rose Jackson said the government does not support buybacks.
"We want to see the Australian Government prioritise investment in recovering water in other ways," she said.
"We have been proactive in scoping these options and putting them in front of the Commonwealth for consideration.
"We will not take a backwards step in advocating for NSW communities.
"If the Australian Government chooses to pursue buybacks we believe they have a responsibility to offset or avoid any negative social and economic impacts on affected communities."
Our community has just got back to where we were before the last round of buybacks.- Linda Fawns, Edwards River councillor
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