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Premier urged to step in on flood plain harvesting “before it is too late”

An open letter from leading environment and Aboriginal groups calls on NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet to step in and call a halt to planned flood plain water harvesting, citing what they claim is damage to our region’s water supplies and catchment areas.

The letter has been signed by – among others – Menindee Tourism’s Brian Stevens, Graeme McCrabb of the Menindee Lakes Stakeholder Group and Rob Gregory of Menindee Food and Fibre.

Other well-known signatories are Rob McBride who was Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder between 2012 and 2018, and traditional owners including Barkandji Elder Badger Bates and Derek Hardman, a Gomeroi Traditional Owner, as well as environmental groups the Darling River Action Group and Nature Conservation Council NSW, among others.

“Mismanagement and over-extraction of water and the effects of climate change are killing our precious wetlands and rivers, including the magnificent Darling-Baaka Rive,” says the letter.

“Your government is about to make matters worse by gifting hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new floodplain harvesting licences to a handful of large corporate irrigators without any meaningful protections for the environment and downstream communities.

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“As First Nations peoples, floodplain graziers, and representatives of the communities and industries that rely on healthy rivers, we call on you to act now to prevent this catastrophe.

“Floodplain harvesting, which involves irrigators capturing vast quantities of water in their private dams—water that should flow across the land and into our rivers—has grown out of control in recent years,” says the letter.

“This has contributed to mass fish kills and the drying and dying of our rivers,” say the signatories.

The say the practice must be regulated.

“But it must be done fairly,” they say.

“The process must be transparent. And it must not occur at the expense of our environment and downstream communities.

“The plan put forward by your Water Minister, Kevin Anderson, fails these four basic tests. Your government’s plan defies the will of the NSW Parliament, which has rejected these regulations three times.”

As we reported last week, in an article by Megan Williams, the controversial practice to capture water in on-farm dams as it flows across floodplains has been subject to a long and drawn-out debate after the NSW Government’s efforts to introduce regulations had been blocked by the NSW Upper House in three disallowance motions over the past two years.

Regulations were introduced to NSW parliament on July 1st by Water Minister Kevin Anderson. Now Minister Griffin has given the tick of approval to four of the 10 Water Sharing Plans which means floodplain harvesting is set to be fully licenced, regulated and permitted in these valleys from September 1.

But the open letter to Premier Perrotett says the harvesting plans, “exclude fair rules developed by your own environment agency, and undermines objectives outlined in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, to which your government is a signatory”.

Mel Gray, who is Convenor for Healthy Rivers Dubbo, told the Barrier Truth on Tuesday, “the Premier claims to be investing in Closing The Gap, and has tasked his Ministers with working to those goals within their portfolios.

Yet here we have his government handing out enormous entitlements to industry without a thought for addressing the chronic dispossession of First Nations people from water. The extent of these gifted entitlements and the generous carryover rules will turn the Darling/Baaka river into an ephemeral system through legislation, effectively killing it.”

The NSW ICAC recently called out the failure of water policy in NSW as being “unduly focused on the interests of the irrigation industry” over the rights of other users.

Without your urgent intervention this unacceptable situation will continue. Successive Water Ministers in NSW have mismanaged the state’s precious water resources.

The environment, First Nations peoples, downstream communities and future generations have paid a high price. We call on you as Premier and leader of the Liberal Party to intervene on floodplain harvesting before it is too late

Mel Gray Convenor Healthy Rivers Dubbo

“The Premier claims to be investing in Closing The Gap, and has tasked his Ministers with working to those goals within their portfolios.

Yet here we have his government handing out enormous entitlements to industry without a thought for addressing the chronic dispossession of First Nations people from water.

The extent of these gifted entitlements and the generous carryover rules will turn the Darling/Baaka river into an ephemeral system through legislation, effectively killing it.”

Aunty Polly Cutmore, a Gomeroi woman, born and bred in the northwest of NSW added, “colonisation has stolen something just as important to my people as land – maybe more so.

It has taken our water — our lifeblood — the essential ingredient that sustains the web of life into which my people have been woven since the beginning of time. I am writing to tell you that colonisation and the dispossession of my people’s water rights did not end last century.

It is still happening today, and in fact it is accelerating.”

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