Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Raiding our northern rivers

Letter to the Editor, The Northern Star, 10 July 2013:

Raiding our rivers

ON June 26 the NSWLC Standing Committee on State Development published a report Adequacy of water storages in New South Wales.

This report recommended that the NSW Government "review the environmental flow allocations for all valleys in New South Wales and make representations to the Commonwealth Government for it to review the environmental flow allocations for all valleys in New South Wales in relation to the Murray Darling Basin Plan" and told the government that "the priority given to environmental needs above water supply to industry and high security needs in regulated rivers under the Water Management Act 2000 is not sufficiently balanced" and recommended that it change this act to prioritise these other needs above environmental needs.

The committee that produced this report was dominated by the Liberal-Nationals Coalition and its oft-times ally, the Christian Democratic Party, so it should come as no surprise that the advice received by the O'Farrell Government heavily favours the interests of both irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin and the mining industry as it does not rule out damming and diverting water from the Northern Rivers to feed the insatiable water hunger of these two groups.

It is a general rule of thumb that it requires 1 to 2 tonnes of water to process 1 tonne of mined ore (USGS, 2012) and an individual coal seam gas well can require up to 1 million litres of drilling water (Metgasco, January 2013).

Irrigation water for crops can range from 2 to 5.5 million litres per hectare as a minimum to bring a crop to maturity in this state (NSW Dept Primary Industry, 2009).

The amount of water that would have to be drawn from the Clarence River systems to meet even part of what these two groups desire would potentially impact on the health of local rivers, local water security, local agriculture, local economies dependant on the fishing industry and tourism industries and the social and cultural life of local communities.

The Tweed and Richmond valley communities would possibly have similar concerns.
It would be useless to look to the North Coast Nationals to protect Northern Rivers interests, as the NSW National Party has never walked away from its 2008 state conference resolution to "support greater efforts to reduce the amount of eastern water lost to the ocean and campaign for more in-depth investigations into finding ways to turn this water inland" (My Daily News online, June 16, 2008).

It would also be useless to look to the Liberal Party to protect our interests, as the Upper House committee's recommendations echo the 2007 Howard-Turnbull push to dam and divert fresh water from the Clarence River catchment area and, the current Federal Opposition favours a "100 dams" plan according to a leaked draft discussion paper which makes mention of the Clarence and Mann rivers (The Daily Examiner, February 14, 2013).

Once again the Northern Rivers region is going to have to rely on its own community resources and lobbying abilities to combat any attempt to raid our river systems.

Now is the time to organise and act.

Judith M Melville

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