What’s the NSW government doing about the drought?
The Water Supply (Critical Needs) Bill 2019 was debated in Parliament last Wednesday, and Byron Shire-based Nationals MLC Ben Franklin presented its second reading.
Essentially the law, if passed, would cut the red tape around assessment and approval of water supply infrastructure of towns struggling with drought.
Franklin told the upper house on November 13, ‘Major regional centres such as Tamworth, Dubbo, Orange and Bathurst have less than 12 months of town water supply remaining. An increasing number of regional towns are facing even greater difficulties with indications that Cobar, Tenterfield, Nyngan and Bourke have less than six months of town water supply’.
Building dams are also part of the Nationals agenda, despite concerns on academic website The Conversation that ‘Modifying flows often has big consequences for people, animals and ecosystems located downstream of the dam’.
Franklin told the upper house with constructing water infrastructure, ‘there is not enough time for a business-as-usual approach,’ and outlined how the bill would work.
In such dry times, should environment and planning assessments for water approvals be ignored?
Trusted with water?
Former Green and independent MP Justin Field said the Nationals should not be trusted with water, given ‘decisions of The National Party in Government – as those who control water – have led to terrible outcomes’.
Field took the opportunity to highlight the Nationals track record on water management. He said, ‘The Natural Resources Commission has put on the table that decisions around water management in the Barwon-Darling have led to drought conditions being brought forward by as much as three years in the southern Darling region’.
‘We have seen the impacts of fish kills as a result of decisions to drain the Menindee Lakes system. We know that the 2014 amendments to the Water Management Act enabled this government to pick and choose which worst-case drought scenario it would use to base its entire water-sharing arrangements on’.
Calling the Bill a ‘muddle’, Field says specific projects have been identified within the Bill, ‘which has been the basis of substantial media coverage’.
‘It is a bit like a pork barrel exercise through legislation: The government calls out a specific town and a specific project, puts it in a bill and suggests that it is doing something, then it goes to the media.’
‘It is worth remembering that in November 2016, the Burrendong Dam was 120 per cent full. Three years later it is at 3.6 per cent. Over-extraction was allowed with no plan for the drought. It is well known what caused the decisions around that: In 2014 amendments were made to the Water Management Act that meant that implications of the millennium drought on how much water was retained in storages for towns did not have to be considered. The Government has let too much water out for its irrigator mates’.