The government is spending billions buying water from farmers to help the Murray-Darling Basin's long-suffering environment. So when the government starts to sell water from the environment back to farmers (and cotton farmers, at that), alarm bells ring out.

Bureaucrats yesterday announced up to 10 billion litres of environmental water in a New South Wales catchment would be sold back to irrigators. Some media reports -- and the Greens -- suggested the Coalition was backing away from the $10 billion plan to protect the Murray-Darling to shore up the budget (The Australian reported the tender was "to raise cash"). Other media reports painted the sale as nothing to worry about for conservationists. Which is closer to the truth?