Locals want action on Wilcannia Weir

Wilcannia Weir

Some Wilcannia residents as well as our State and Federal MPs, are calling for answers about the apparent lengthy delay in building a new Wilcannia Weir.

WaterNSW plans to construct the new weir 5kms downstream from the old failing weir. That process began in August 2019 when the government organisation released a Fact Sheet on the Wilcannia Weir Replacement Project and began concept design and environmental assessments in preparation for construction planned to start in 2020.

State MP for Barwon, Roy Butler, has been seeking a meeting with state Ministers for months to get to the bottom of concerns coming into his office from community members about the perceived delay, and last week there was some progress, but not enough according to the MP’s spokesperson.

“Roy was not very happy with the information provided and says that there should be more community consultation on the issue,” said the spokesperson. “There is another meeting set down for Thursday next week [February 15], so hopefully something better will come out of that meeting.”

Federal MP for Parkes, Mark Coulton, has even brought the matter up in Parliament during the adjournment debate to close parliamentary proceedings on Thursday.

Mr Coulton said, “this project has been in the pipeline for a long time. It’s been mooted for years, decades, even. But, in the more recent times, when the Member for Maranoa [David Littleproud] was the water minister, he and I and the New South Wales water minister at the time, Niall Blair, went to Wilcannia and announced $15 million from each government to the construction of a [new] weir.

“The new weir was to raise the level a metre above the existing weir. It was further downstream. It was to have gates to enable down-river flows in the Darling River in dry times, to put a run of water down the lower Darling, where we’ve had serious trouble over the years in that part of the river, as well as a fish ladder.

“Now somewhere over the last six months or so, within the New South Wales public service, they have changed this design from a substantial concrete weir to an earth-and-rock construction—basically, a pile of rocks in the river—and no gates and no higher than the existing weir.

“One of the reasons I’m raising this now is that I’m not sure that Minister Plibersek has been made aware of the changes that New South Wales has made … because clearly the Commonwealth has a stake in this.

On the surface, it would appear the Wilcannia Weir Replacement Project is a relatively new concept, but according to local resident and Wilcannia Community Tourism Association President, Bill Elliott, a new weir for the town was promised way back in 1969.

Mr Coulton thinks there’s more to the delay than can be seen on the surface.

“I am suspicious that there is a culture in the New South Wales public service that is opposed to weirs,” he told parliament.

“But I’ll say this much: there has been a lot of discussion in the last 12 months about the welfare of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, but all I seem to see is proposals that make their life harder. This is just another one.”

Mr Coulton said Wilcannia, like the other river towns he represents, relies heavily on water for prosperity.

“When there’s water in the river for those communities, the welfare, the wellbeing and the mental health of those communities is much, much better.

“This weir was not only going to raise the water level and have a more long-lasting, permanent water hole; but it was going to back up the river for about 30 kilometres and also give some assistance to landholders and graziers further up.

“This weir was going to make significant difference to the wellbeing of the people of the town … they need this proposal.

“We need to make sure that New South Wales reverses this ridiculous decision, sticks to the plan that’s been agreed upon, between not only state and federal governments but also the local community, and get this thing built, because the local community is incredibly upset at this last change of events.”

At a recent public meeting organised by the state government, Mr Elliot, who was the only member of the public to turn up, said the change in design for the weir, “was quite a shock to me as the whole concept and reasoning behind the weir construction appears to have been abandoned, and a ‘makeshift concept’ of little benefit to the area has been adopted and done as quietly as possible,” he claims.

“In July 1969, the government of the day promised a new weir for Wilcannia, but this never happened so in 1983 following a drought, Federal Members Tim Fischer and Noel Hicks visited Wilcannia to inspect the proposed site for a new weir. In 1989 funding was announced, but for several reasons this project did not materialise,” says Mr Elliott.

According to WaterNSW, the Water Group is progressing with a sheet-pile, clay core and rock-fill weir at the same height as the existing failing weir. It will be a fixed crest type weir and will include a vertical-slot type fishway to allow fish to migrate upstream past the weir itself.

This change in design from the original concept is said by WaterNSW to provide, “value for money, improve site safety and to minimise its impact on the environment and culturally significant sites in the area, while still providing water security for Wilcannia”.

More information here, and of course we will be following up on any developments:

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