Murray-Darling: United Condemnation of NSW Water Policy

NSW Water Minister Niall Blair has been urged to halt a controversial policy change in an open letter co-ordinated by The Australia Institute and signed by irrigators, graziers, Aboriginal nations, local governments, environment groups and the former Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

The broad alliance of signatories oppose the Minister’s plan to give away rights to divert huge volumes of water in the northern Basin under a process known as ‘floodplain harvesting’.

“Floodplain harvesting is a major contributor to the fish kills and water crises that have appalled all Australians this year,” said Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute.

“The NSW Government has never measured the volume taken but admits to a major increase. Rather managing this water for all stakeholders they are giving it away to favoured irrigators.

“There are few issues that unite people across the Basin, but floodplain harvesting does because it affects communities not just the north, but in the Barwon-Darling, Murrumbidgee and Murray as well.”

“This is a slap in the face for suffering communities in the southern Basin. We’ve given up water for the environment and can’t grow anything this year. We are measured to the cupful, but serious questions must be asked about the lack of effective metering in the north. Something needs to be done,” said Shelley Scoullar, Chair of Speak Up.   

“This year’s cotton crop in the northern basin will need about 3 million megalitres of water. The majority of that water must have been captured off the floodplain, with no regulation, monitoring or control” said Chris Brooks, Chair of Southern Riverina Irrigators.

“The proposed monitoring methods are an embarrassment. There is no excuse for a 21st century irrigation industry to use 19th century technology. In the Murray and Murrumbidgee nearly $600 million has been spent on new measuring technology over the last 5 years. Apparently the growers in the north can’t afford any meters even when the government is paying for them.

“With no water coming down the Darling, the Murray has to provide more water to South Australia. This means Murray irrigators are paying for the increased extractions in the north.” 

“The amount of water being taken by floodplain harvesting is killing our Baaka (Darling) and it is killing our people” said Baakandji Elder, Badger Bates.

“We are Baakandji – we belong to the river. Without the river, we are nothing. When the river is sick, our people are sick. When the river stops, crime and suicide rates in Wilcannia go up. When the river is flowing, crime and suicide goes down.”

“This not only is killing the river, it is killing the floodplain” said Terry Korn, President of the Australian Floodplain Association.

“Western NSW used to support a rich ecology, grazing economy and communities. The current levels of floodplain extraction will continue to reduce the resilience and longevity of communities by limiting diversity of production systems. This must not happen.”

“Floodplain harvesting is stopping low and medium flows from getting down the Darling. Without these flows the river’s ecosystems come under huge pressure resulting in events like fish kills. This policy proposal will only entrench this problem,” said Kate Smolski CEO of Nature Conservation Council NSW.

Full text of the open letter and list of signatories attached.

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