The Nature Conservation Council of NSW say the NSW Government is putting town water supplies and fish stocks on the Darling-Baaka River at risk by telling irrigators at the top of the system they can take river water virtually at will.
The group says that Water Minister Melinda Pavey and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment have in recent days advised irrigators in the Barwon River catchment, including the Gwydir and Namoi sub-catchments, that there is ample water and to take what they want.
Nature Conservation Council of NSW Chief Executive Chris Gambian said the Minister should not let big irrigators at the top of the system syphon off this precious water for private profit. ‘These rains may be the last chance for many months to top up town water supplies, like those at Collarenebri, and replenish billabongs and other wetlands, like the Menindee Lakes.
‘This water should be used for the common good and for the health of the river itself.
‘Significant rainfall this month in the northern basin could flush the Barwon and Darling-Baaka river systems for the first time in months and replenish town water supplies, which would be an absolute godsend this close to Christmas.
‘But that is being put at risk by the department and the minister urging big irrigators to take what they want from the first flows.
‘The ICAC report found the department had failed to strike the right balance between the needs of irrigators, towns and the environment.
‘This shows that the department has still not mended its ways. However, this does present an opportunity for department to show that it is taking on board the advice of the state’s top anti-corruption watchdog.’
‘As we are told by BOM, there will be more rain events likely over the summer months, and if we are not sharing the welcome rains right across the state, then the Government will be acting outside of the legislation. There are too many straws in the glass and it must stop now.
‘We urge Minister Pavey to immediately impose an embargo on irrigation take in all tributaries of the Barwon-Darling-Baaka, to ensure town water supplies downstream, environmental recovery and connectivity of the river right through to the confluence in Wentworth.’
This is not a new problem – the people of the Baaka have been fighting this for a long time.