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Trust broken in Menindee

Thursday, 13th February, 2020

Derek Hardman, CEO of the Barkindji Native Title Group Corporation. PICTURE: Supplied Derek Hardman, CEO of the Barkindji Native Title Group Corporation. PICTURE: Supplied

By Callum Marshall

Menindee locals and even ex-locals who have been doing their best to supply the town with water and keep the fish alive have angrily condemned the NSW Government for letting irrigators take the floodwaters in the north.

Water Minister Melinda Pavey said only a “small number” of temporary exemptions were given to properties affected by flooding.

“It is a relief to see naturally occurring flows running all the way down the Barwon River from Mungindi to Walgett, likely to replenish town supply weirs at Brewarrina and Bourke and we’re hopeful even down to Menindee Lakes,” Mrs Pavey said yesterday.

“We’re hopeful that any rainfall now will result in increased stream inflows and for that reason embargoes will remain in place across the Northern Basin.”

While the exemption that allowed irrigators to take the water is due to end today, the decision to grant it in the first place has infuriated everyone in Menindee, Wilcannia and the Far West.

Graeme McCrabb in Menindee said it was “rubbish” and had made people very angry. 

“We’ve got dead fish in the river, mussels everywhere and we’re screaming out for water,” he said.

“We’ve had below average rainfall for three years, 15 mil so far this year and for some reason they’ve lifted an embargo. Why put it on if you’re going to lift it?”

Mr McCrabb said government talking about irrigators having to pump the water to protect their infrastructure “doesn’t pass the pub test.”

“It’s just another cop out for irrigators to be able to access water,” said Mr McCrabb. “Not even minor folks claim access protection - it’s just morally wrong.

“If they’ve got assets that are going to be damaged by this sort of water then they need to shift them. They shouldn’t be there.

“They shouldn’t be getting dispensation for it. They should be told to get their shit off the floodplain.”

Mr McCrabb and other volunteers have been working tirelessly to move Murray Cod, Silver Perch and other native fish to aerated zones for protection.

He said this latest government decision made them feel like their efforts were pointless.  

“When you’re shifting cod that are 20 years old to a refuge that’s only going to last another six months, to then have an embargo lifted upstream, why would people keep trying?

“Millions of dollars being spent on aeration and fish preservation, for better times, and the first opportunity we have to take advantage of that the Water Minister ignores it.”

Mal Highet, who has been trucking bottled water to his old home town on Menindee and the Far West for more than a year, was furious.

“I’m just devastated and I think Melinda Pavey, with her carry-on about Queensland and not allowing floodplain harvesting, is now sneakily...allowing New South Wales to floodplain harvest,” he said.

“I’m so bloody angry that this is happening.

“We’re busting our arse trying to help these communities to get through a time that’s been devastating for them.

“For her to do this, as far as I’m concerned she should be kicked out of parliament...with her friends.

“We want those rivers and lakes filled for those communities - Menindee, Wilcannia, Pooncarie, and all the lower systems.”

To allow pumping now took hope away, said Mr Highet.

“That’s why we’ve been doing what we’re doing - it keeps these people in the communities and gives them hope,” he said. 

“This sort of shit takes that hope away. That’s the part I find hard to deal with.

“Let the rivers flow and if there’s any water left over from future floods let them (irrigators) have a bit.”

Derek Hardman, CEO of the Barkindji Native Title Group Aboriginal Corporation (BNTGAC) said floodplain harvesting was “one of the biggest things that stopped water getting to our rivers.” 

“It’s unlicensed. People don’t know how much they’re taking,” he said.

“All the government is about is meeting their environmental requirements, whatever they are.

“They think that just because they’re doing their water resource plans that they have a right to do whatever they feel like.

“They’ve had seven years to get these water resource plans completed...and nothing’s happened.

“And for everybody up and down the Baaka it’s gone back to the same old way. 

“Why are they even bothering to meet with communities, stakeholders up and down the Baaka when nobody’s going to listen? 

“It’s right across the board - whether it’s DPI, Murray-Darling Basin. I just think we’re flogging a dead horse. We’re not getting anywhere.

“Don’t put it all on drought. Everybody knows all the issues. Everybody knows floodplain harvesting and over-extraction are part of the reason why we’ve got no water.

“Everybody is telling them it doesn’t work. They’re destroying our rivers, but they continue to do it.

“I’m just sitting here in shock because I don’t believe how blatantly stupid they are to continually mismanage our resources.

“I’m a bit shattered, but we’ll continue to fight and I’m sure this won’t be the last argument we have about this.”

General Manager of the Central Darling Shire, Greg Hill, also said the government’s decision was very disappointing.

“We know that they’re starting to irrigate, or potentially to irrigate, when the water hasn’t even reached the Shire or even Menindee Lakes,” Mr Hill said.

“I thought we were in a first flush mode where they were going to have an embargo on the irrigation until the water actually got right through the whole system,” he said.

“I was at a meeting on Monday and it was mentioned then that Queensland was starting to pump for irrigation purposes, yet the water hadn’t even crossed the border and got into New South Wales yet.”

He said Menindee and Wilcannia were having to survive on salty bore water.

“It’d be nice to see that the water got through to those towns before they even started lifting the embargo on the pumping,” said Mr Hill.

“What flow we get, if they start drawing from it, might be a very minimal flow and it’s only going to bring the rubbish down anyhow, so the water might not even be worth using.”

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