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NSW water policy giveaway promises more ecological disaster

open letter Murray-Darling floodplains

Floodplain water for favoured irrigators

THE AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE has coordinated an open letter (PDF version) to NSW Water Minister Niall Blair (National Party) urging him to halt a controversial policy change from his department that assigns rights to divert huge volumes of water in the northern Murray-Darling Basin under a process known as ‘floodplain harvesting’.

The letter is signed by irrigators, graziers, Aboriginal nations, local governments, environment groups and the former Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

“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. She said this is an issue that affects and unites people across the river basins.

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

The Bulletin reported in a previous article how the Darling’s floodplain system is critical to low and medium flows and that water is being diverted to irrigators from these floodplains up to 50%.

Related article and background:
Who ‘owned’ the Darling these past years?

Comments from petition signers 

Chair of Speak Up Shelley Scoullar:  “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.”

Chair of Southern Riverina Irrigators Chris Brooks:  “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.”

“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 five 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.”

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

“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.”

President of the Australian Floodplain Association Terry Korn:  “This is not only killing the river, it is killing the floodplain” [including Ramsar–listed wetlands and bird habitat].

“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.”

MAIN IMAGE: Lake Menindee reflections (Photoholgic, Shutterstock).
INSET: Screenshot of Open Letter (PNG version) circulated to Press.

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