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Candidate reiterates party’s river stance

Thursday, 21st February, 2019

Nationals’ candidate for Barwon, Andrew Schier. PICTURE: Facebook Nationals’ candidate for Barwon, Andrew Schier. PICTURE: Facebook

By Callum Marshall

The Nationals candidate for Barwon Andrew Schier has reiterated a party line that drought and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder are the main causes for a dry Darling River, and the draining of Menindee Lakes, respectively.

Discussing upcoming election issues with the BDT on Monday, Mr Schier brought up the current drought when the topic of water management came up.

“I’m a farmer and I understand what impact the drought has had,” he said. 

“I’ve been feeding livestock for over two years now and I’ve suffered within my own business a production loss of two serial crops which I haven’t seen occur in my lifetime.

“We’ve got a lake-like Keepit Dam that, on average, normally gets 870 gigalitres a water that flows into it annually.

“In the last eight months it’s had less than 30, in the last twelve months prior to that it’s had less than a 100 gigalitres of water flow into it.

“We’ve got the Macquarie River suffering flows that are smaller than what they had in the Millennium Drought.

“500 gigalitres of water flowed into Burrendong Dam during the Millenium Drought. In the last two years flows into it have been less than a 110 gigalitres of water.

“That shows how incredibly dry the environment is because of the prolonged drought.”

Although drought has played a part within the current water crisis, the recent report from the Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin highlighted that the MDBA’s environmental flows for the river were far below what they needed to be.

The report also noted that river mismanagement had seen water allocations driven by politics rather than science, irrigators and economic factors had been prioritised, the Water Act had been breached several times and that the MDBA needed an overhaul.

Despite the significant impact of the MDBA’s river mismanagement within the Basin, Mr Schier did not discuss the issue. 

Another topic discussed was the draining of Menindee Lakes.

Mr Schier said he was frustrated when the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder released water from the Lakes in 2016/17 for downstream communities.

“When we have the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder taking Menindee’s water and sending it down the system, I’m frustrated that it wasn’t kept there to protect that Lower Darling river,” he said.

“When you’ve got two controlling bodies of water and the first one takes their water out, you are at the mercy of evaporation and your customers.

“The quick drawdown has disadvantages in increasing the problem with evaporation and it makes it difficult to store the water in a system that is so shallow. 

“The state also runs the risk of leaving the water there (where it could) evaporate and then gets criticised for leaving it there and not getting any environmental bang-for-buck.

“So they chose to send water and that’s on a basis of expected average flows in, and those haven’t occurred and it’s been called out at this time.

“If I told you that an average of 4000 gigalitres flows into the whole system but then it suddenly drops back to near zero for two years, (I don’t see how) that’s a problem that anyone can foresee.

“And I think that (put) the New South Wales state government in an awkward position.”

Mr Schier’s comments echoed ones made by Regional Water Minister Niall Blair last year when he blamed downstream environmental releases by the MDBA and CEWH for draining the Lakes so significantly.

However, these claims were disputed in a recent Australia Institute report looking into the draining of Menindee Lakes. 

“Claims by the NSW Water Minister that this crisis was ‘under the control of Canberra’ are false,” noted the ‘Fish Called Q and A’ report.

“The MDBA coordinates the management of the lakes, but does not ‘control’ it.

“In fact, states can direct the management of the lakes via the Ministerial Council and Basin Officials Committee.”

Furthermore, the report noted that environmental flows out of the Menindee Lakes during the 2016/17 period accounted for only a small amount of the water released.

“There was a total of 89GL of environmental water released from Menindee in the 2016/17 year. This represents just 11% of the total releases to the Lower Darling,” the report said. 

Ultimately, the report noted that saving evaporation was part of the reason why the Lakes were drained, but that poor transparency from the MDBA surrounding the draining of the Lakes made it hard to formulate what the other causes might’ve been. 

“Long-standing practice by the MDBA is to prioritise releases from Menindee Lakes above other storages to minimise evaporation,” it noted.

“However, causing an ecological disaster to avoid evaporation can hardly be described as good environmental management, particularly when downstream areas were in flood.”

During the discussion surrounding water issues Mr Schier said he’d like to see more infrastructure such as weirs, reservoirs, regulators and block banks installed along the river to better store water.

“I don’t want to talk the politics, I don’t want the inquiries or the Royal Commissions,” said Mr Schier.

“I’m about getting on with the job with infrastructure within the river and that’s what people are telling me and that’s what I believe in.

“You look at the Murray River, it was a dry bed prior to the putting in of weirs and locks in that system. 

“The Macquarie River’s the same, it’s got a fantastic system whereby every fifty to sixty kilometres there’s a good weir in place. 

“Those weir pools start at 200,000 megalitres of water down to the Gin Gin Weir which has got 60,000.

“That’s what we need in the river, and that would allow for better transfer of environmental water at strategic times.”

Alongside the water issues, Mr Schier discussed wanting to build up local populations and their workforce through education and training, including getting more people into TAFE vocational education.

Following his visit over the weekend, he said he was planning to come out to the region three more times before the election date on March 23, including for the St Pat’s racing event.

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