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Byron Shire
August 2, 2021

NSW govt aims to fast track regional water infrastructure

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Nationals MLC Ben Franklin

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?

Independent MLC Justin Field

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.’

‘Irrigator mates’

‘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’.

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  1. Always to little to late from the nats. Never forward thinkers that continue to be reactive to situations when caught out for their lack of action. Just at their screaming at people who had the hide to relate the bushfire and drought crisis to climate change. Nothing to see here!

  2. Typical nats grandiose announcements to cover up their lack of foresight. Throwing our money around without proper planning. If you disagree be prepared to be called latte drinking loonies. How come people keep voting for these people- most ain’t even farmers, Ben Franklin has spent his life as a political staffer- great life experiences!

  3. The Nats’ mismanagement of the MDBA is utterly reprehensible. Draining Menindie Lakes twice for no reason except to allow the Darling to dry up & to the building oF a $500 million pipe line from Wentworth to Broken Hill when there was a perfectly good pipeline from Menindie to the Hill. $500 million so that cotton growers could “steal” water.

  4. Lovely to learn from Justin Field that the legislative amendments have enabled over extractions to be carried out or to omit essential town supply considerations. This feels like total bastardisation of natural resources, communities and eco systems that are interdependent on one another.
    Parliament can’t continue as it has been with the denials or nothing to see here approach or head in the sand or the blame game tiring dynamics. We are in a climate crisis NOW & our mp’s still can follow IPCC recommendations to start addressing our climate crisis.

  5. As someone who worked on the development of water sharing plans as a Govt representative,(but not in the murray darling basin) i was horrified to find that our working party was instructed to work with ‘100 years of data’ for river flow. Given that climate change was already an accepted reality by science and many o’seas countries, to develop plans which didn;t allow for changed flow patterns was close to criminal. A group of us finally managed to convince our working party to use CSIRO model results which may not have been perfect but much more reflective of reality (in the light of current data they were probably pretty conservative but much closer to reality than the historic data)
    This is, I believe, one of the major factors in the failure of the MD basin plans – plus of course the ridiculous transfer of water extraction licences upstream ignoring the needs of towns and the environment downstream.
    The culture of water regulators needs to change – other users and the environment must come first, and the volume of secure water (available every year no matter what) strictly limited so that we don’t have vastly over developed nuts and horticulture areas which have to be irrigated every year with unreliable water which is only available intermittently.
    Annual crops like cotton and rice have the advantage that they can quickly irrigate a profitable crop in a year when water is clearly and safely available, but no crop will be planted when the flows are limited. We have to develop our cropping to suit the extreme variability of our climate and water flows, not try to drain the basin to irrigate over developed areas of horticulture.
    I don;t agree with the free market of water licences with water becoming a tradeable commodity a la the stock exchange with speculators who play the market for profit when they don’t even own land. Transfers should be very carefully monitored (probably only downstream so no one is negativley effected in the system) and only sold to people who have land capable of using it.

  6. Building dams, especially surface dams, is a waste of time and money unless there is a permanent, reliable source of water to fill them. We can no longer rely on the weather to supply that much-needed reliable supply due to climate change, so an alternative supply must be investigated. The obvious solution is to jump on board with Queensland and build the Bradfield Scheme to bring water down from the north through a series of pipelines, canals, tunnels, pumping stations and retention dams. It is time to stop the old competitive argy-bargy between the two states and start working together to get this mega-project off the ground. This is not a time for pettiness, it’s a time for co-operation. And when that hurdle has been overcome and construction begins, then serious thought has to be put into what sort of dams we build here in NSW in future to hold that permanent supply of water. It is clear that the increases in temperature makes surface dams impractical. So rather than building even larger surface dams, we should be looking at building hundreds of underground cisterns in every single town which are several times larger than the old reservoirs of the past. We need to start thinking “desert” infrastructure as soon this entire continent will be a lot more arid than it is today. It is time to throw out the old thinking and bring in the new – but if we leave it up to the Nationals, I doubt that anything will change and they will drag us kicking and screaming into building water infrastructure that is totally impractical for what lies ahead. They have a track record of sabotaging practical innovation and I would strongly recommend that any ideas they come up with will be just as useless. So God Help Us if they remain in charge of water infrastructure into the future.


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