An alliance of irrigators, graziers, fishers, First Nations leaders, and environmental groups have come out in strong support for expanding water buybacks from willing sellers as the best way to return enough water to Australia’s biggest river system, the Murray-Darling River.
With the federal government to vote on critical changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the Senate by the end of the year, a petition of 10,000 signatures from people across the Basin states urging Environment and Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek, to stand up and protect the rivers, was presented in Parliament House by the Murray-Darling Conservation Alliance last week.
The legislation, titled the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill, aims to offer the Murray-Darling River a lifeline in the face of likely droughts, with the Darling River directly impacting the Menindee Lakes system in Far West NSW.
However, Ross Leddra, who was President of the now defunct Darling River Action Group, said that while water buybacks are good for a community who wants to see the river and the lakes back to how they used to be, there was – and has been – one key detail missing from many environmental and advocacy group’s collective efforts of bringing together a community impacted by this debate.
“The emphasis has got to be ‘What about the Darling?’,” he told the Barrier Truth.
“There’s been no mention of the Darling in these buybacks. No mention whatsoever. They’ve got to start talking. We’ve got to ask the question ‘What about Menindee? What about the Darling River? Bourke through to Louth [and] Tilpa? What about the Darling River?’.
“It’s really got to be asked because for too long, for the last 20 years, it’s been like a service channel to get water to South Australia. There’s just total disregard. There’s no mention of the Darling River which is sinful because that’s the place that has taken the hit over the last 20-odd years.
“For too long it’s been ignored. That’s not bloody good enough. We’re over it. We’ve seen what it was. We’re not reaching pie in the sky for something, because it was an established fruit growing area. We just want to return to a bit of normality.
“450gL is going to go to South Australia. Once again, we miss out. Nothing is being said about the Darling, from Wentworth to Bourke, and it’s the one that’s been absolutely hammered the most, the one that’s been belted time and time and time again.”
“The cease to flow events in the Darling are getting more and more. Research tells us that rainfall in the catchment is kind of varied minus plus five per cent, which is irrelevant. You can’t blame anything bar water’s being taken out. Simple as that. We’re getting nothing for it. We certainly would like to see both federally and state a bit more emphasis on the Darling. For too long we’ve been left out.”
A recent visit to Menindee last month from Federal Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, proved to be a productive sign for locals who want positive action, with Mr Leddra mentioning that anything to store water back into the rivers is a great thing, and needing the support of federal members of Parliament was paramount to the amendment getting over the line.
“People are in favour of voluntary buybacks. I mean, it’s up to the farmer who wants to sell. Our main thing is, we’ve got to have water coming down the system. Connectivity. And whatever’s taken out of the lakes, gets replaced,” he said.
“We cannot, as we’re seeing once again, the water’s gone downstream, nothing’s coming in. It’s going to be down to 60 per cent if they’re not already there, which is going to be disastrous come Christmas [and the] New Year. That’s if we don’t get any rain. But if buybacks help the system, terrific.
“The best thing so far is state and federally, the Labor governments have come out and visited on numerous occasions. That’s something that we never saw from the previous governments. They met with various groups; they toured the lakes so they’re getting a bit of an understanding.
“We want to see more emphasis on the whole Darling from Bourke right through and the Menindee Lakes, Anabranch, the whole system. We’ve got to have connectivity in the flow rates, but we’d like to see more done to our area, to the Darling. Connectivity is the name of the game and getting the flow rates and all that back up to where they were roughly at the turn of the century.”