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Floodplain plan condemned

Tuesday, 19th February, 2019

Darcy Hare, vice chairman of the Southern Riverina Irrigators. PICTURE: Country News Darcy Hare, vice chairman of the Southern Riverina Irrigators. PICTURE: Country News

By Craig Brealey

The NSW Government’s strategy to measure the taking of floodwaters by irrigators is no more sophisticated than a dipstick.

That was how the plan was described yesterday in a joint submission to the government from researchers, irrigators, graziers and the Darling River Action Group. 

They are calling on government to withdraw its draft strategy because, they said, it failed to address the problem of massive volumes of floodwater being diverted into private dams.  

So-called floodplain harvesting for cotton crops in northern NSW had done great damage to the environment in the Basin and to graziers and irrigators downstream, said Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute. 

“This practice contributed to the Darling River fish kills that have shocked the country, but it also has costs for irrigators and graziers in other parts of the Basin, Indigenous and other communities,” Ms Slattery said yesterday. 

“Despite the $13 billion taxpayer dollars put towards the Basin Plan, the NSW Government strategy for monitoring huge volumes of water is for self-reporting by irrigators using ‘gauge boards’ which are little more than glorified rulers or dipsticks.  

“This is trying to regulate 21st century agribusiness with medieval technology.” 

An irrigators’ group said the government’s proposal would give all irrigators a bad name.

“As irrigators, we are aghast at the draft strategy,” said Darcy Hare of Southern Riverina Irrigators. 

“In the Southern Riverina every drop of water is measured with up-to-date technology and our members are committed to irrigation that is transparent, accountable and sustainable,” Mr Hare said. 

“The contrast with this proposal could not be more stark. The floodplain harvesting strategy needs a major rewrite to protect the wider reputation of the irrigation industry.” 

Mark Hutton, the chairman of the Darling River Action Group, said licensing cotton growers to take water from floods would do nothing but deprive the Darling of even more water.

“The Darling River and Menindee Lakes need more flows to get back to a state that fish can live in and our communities can rebuild from,” Mr Hutton said. 

“We are now famous for a river of dead fish and this strategy does nothing to help our situation.” 

Rob McBride, of Tolarno Station, said the health of the river and floodplains was “crucial” for graziers throughout the Basin. 

“This has been forgotten by Basin managers, bringing this strategy into question,” said Mr McBride.  

“Small floods are part of the basin ecosystem and have an important part to play for graziers’ productivity, but it is exactly these flows that are captured by floodplain harvesting, to the detriment of the Darling.” 

Ms Slattery said the NSW Government’s proposal might even be illegal.

“The strategy appears inconsistent with the Federal Water Act, the NSW Water Management Act, Basin Compliance Compact and the aims of the Natural Resource Access Regulator,” she said. 

“Unless NSW goes back to the drawing board, this could end up as a lawyers’ picnic.”

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party candidate for the state seat of Barwon, Roy Butler, said the NSW Government had apparently learned nothing from recent history.

“It doesn’t matter if you take your sources from The Australia Institute,” said Mr Butler, referring to the Coalition Government’s habitual description of the Institute as “leftist”.

“When asked about floodplain harvesting, the State Government can’t provide any numbers. How can they manage a system if they can’t measure it?

“The report is nothing surprising. I’m not here to beat up irrigators or a particular crop. It’s about following the rules and the State Government enforcing those rules.”

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