DPI admits river situation desperate: farmer
Thursday, 7th April, 2016
By Craig Brealey
The situation in the Darling River was a mess, a senior water bureaucrat admitted yesterday, according to a crop grower who attended a public meeting in Pooncarie.
About 100 people, including graziers and small-holding irrigators, attended the meeting at which Gavin Hanlon, the Deputy Director General of Water with the Department of Primary Industries, was questioned about how things got so desperate and what was being done to fix it.
The meeting was held in the hall at Pooncarie on the banks of the dry river and lasted about four hours, said Alan Whyte, who grows citrus on Jamesville Station, 60km north of Wentworth.
“The hall was effectively full,” Mr Whyte todl the BDT. “It was a constructive meeting and there were certainly some very firm messages put.
“Will it change the DPI’s policy? Maybe.”
Mr Whyte said the best thing to come out of the meeting was a promise from Mr Hanlon to have the DPI improve its communications with the people on the Lower Darling.
It had been about 14 months since anyone had heard anything from the department about what it was doing, he said.
But the meeting could not extract a promise from the DPI to stop irrigators in the north of the State from helping themselves to water that should be let flow downstream, Mr Whyte said.
In January, the Water Minister Niall Blair lifted a brief embargo on those irrigators, on the grounds that small flows would never make it this far.
But Mr Whyte said that was a big mistake.
“It is a simple statement of fact that if the embargo on low-priority licence holders had not been lifted, there would now be fresh water in Pooncarie,” he said.
“The embargoes should go straight back on.
“There were some very firm messages (put to Mr Hanlon) but we won’t know if we achieved anything until there’s a little bit of rain up north.”
Mr Whyte said that the meeting was orderly, despite the mood of the long-suffering people.
“They had every right to be cranky, so it’s a credit to them that they kept it civil,” he said.
The biggest problem was the lack of water for people and stock on the river from Menindee to just above Wentworth, Mr Whyte said, but there were also about half a dozen growers of citrus, grapes and stonefruit.
“They’re all really struggling. Some have put down bores; some work, some don’t. Graziers are destocking or adjisting.”
Mr Whyte said everyone appreciated being able to talk to Mr Hanlon, and the fact that he had been in the job for just over a year.
“But it’s a fair call that he should have been out here sooner.
“The mess in the Lower Darling is the biggest mess in the State; even Gavin acknowledged that today.
“But where was our local MP, Adrian Piccoli? And the Water Minister has never been out here.
“The Lower Darling is the forgotten bit of the State. It all too far away and all a bit embarrassing.”