Saturday, 23rd February, 2019
By Craig Brealey
A famous winery on the Murrumbidgee River is backing local efforts to save the Darling River.
This week members of the Darling River Action Group and other locals drove 700-odd kilometres to Griffith for a public forum with NSW politicians about the crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin.
On the eve of the meeting, the secretary of DRAG, Darryn Clifton, met the owners of the De Bortoli winery which was established in 1928.
Mr Clifton said they realised that if nothing was done about the over-extraction of water for cotton in the Northern Basin they would suffer badly.
“They are already members of our Facebook page because they know the things happening in the north will affect them,” he said.
If the Murray-Darling Basin Plan persisted with keeping the Darling River and the Menindee Lakes dry, then the water they sent down the Murray for South Australia would have to come from elsewhere in the Southern Basin, he said.
“The government will try to get water out of them because they’re on the Murrumbidgee and that flows into the Murray.”
Six locals went to the meeting on Tuesday night and were joined by supporters from Mildura and Griffith itself.
It was convened by the NSW Shadow Water Minister, Chris Minns, and people got to question him and Regional Water Minister, Niall Blair, and Greens’ water spokesman, Justin Fields.
About 250 people attended, mainly Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area farmers and cotton industry representatives.
The contingent from Broken Hill and Menindee managed to get in three questions - about the Wentworth pipeline, the ‘no meter, no pump’ rule and the extraction of water from floodplains.
Mr Minns and Mr Fields said they would keep seeking the full facts about the government’s decision to build the pipeline but Mr Blair again refused to release the so-called business case, said Mr Clifton.
“He said he gave us a summary and that should be enough. We did not get a right of reply,” he said.
With the ‘no meter, no pump’ for irrigators in the north, Mr Blair said it had been legislated but Mr Clifton said it had not come into effect.
“We said we wanted it now. That got a good response from the crowd who wanted to know why as well because they’re all on zero allocation,” he said.
Mr Blair also said that floodplain harvesting had to be licensed so it could be measured, Mr Clifton said.
“But they have allowed it to happen illegally and the water is not coming into the river,” he said.
“It is illegal diversion and last year the government legislated to make it legal. It stops all the tributaries from flowing.”
On the drive back to Broken Hill on Wednesday Mr Clifton said he saw more water being taken for irrigation in the drought.
“We drove for 50 or 60 kilometres along a dirt road to Ivanhoe and there were irrigation channels in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
“It would have been a minimum of 50 kilometres from any water source and we could see all this lucerne growing.
There was also a “massive” cotton farm in Hillston on the Lachlan River, he said.