A leading water researcher says government water reforms have worsened the effects of the drought.

Maryanne Slattery, from the Australia Institute, says Australia’s water market and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) have “made things worse”.

“I think that governments have exacerbated this drought,” Ms Slattery said this week.

Ms Slattery said there are many signs of government mismanagement.

“We've had increased extractions in the northern basin with the increase of flood-plain harvesting,” she said.

“We've got changes to the Barwon-Darling water sharing plan, which take all of the water in the river at low flows.

“The Government drained Menindee Lakes in 2016-17 and has never been able to give an explanation as to why they drained the lakes when there was flooding in South Australia.

“We've got the construction of big new dams in the Murrumbidgee which are designed to capture flows that naturally would come out of the Murrumbidgee and underwrite the reliability of water licences in the Murray.

“And last year, we saw the flooding of the Barmah-Millewa forest for operational reasons to push water down for almonds at the end of the system that otherwise could have been used to grow fodder for dairy and cows.”

Federal Minister for Water Resources and Drought, David Littleproud, said the plan could have been far worse, relying on buyback schemes that “decimated” towns.

“Those things destroy communities,” he said.

“I'm as popular as the pox in places but I can look people in the eye and say; ‘I'm not going to leave you a legacy that's worse than is there now’.”

He also criticised state governments for a lack of agreement on their responsibilities in delivering water.

Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers Federation, said allowing water to nourish the environment hurts farming communities.

“That's why we're seeing so much stress and angst because it's actually removing water from one industry, from agriculture, from growing food and fibre, and it's contributing it to the environment,”

“What's compounding it is because there's no actual water coming into the system, then in actual fact you can't see the water anywhere.”

Ms Slattery said the MDBP is “a train wreck”.

“We're not going to get better while we keep sitting here and pitching the environment against irrigators,” she said.

“And allowing these really big problems in implementation to continue without being honest about them.”