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Byron Shire
May 9, 2021

Upside down river

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Richard White, East Ballina

I was going to deride the various government departments and agencies (DPI, DPE, OEH, EPA etc) that have failed the Richmond River, all the farming interests, and local governments within the catchment, that over the years promised so much and yet have done so little, when I realised it is all of us who have failed.

We are losing countless tonnes of soil and smothering all the aquatic and marine life because no-one is prepared to do more than write reports and attend seminars.

Where is most of this soil coming from? Mismanaged, outdated, and inappropriate farming practices and unsealed roads are major culprits.

Whether it is destroyed riparian zones along creeks and rivers that can no longer protect the remaining trees hanging onto the steep banks, further undermined by cattle wandering down to the river because there are no fences, or macadamia farming practices blowing and sweeping soil loose from under the orchards, or the disaster that is the sugarcane flood mitigation scheme, they all need to be radically changed, now!

Having a few Landcare groups fiddling around, clearing invasive weeds and replanting native species here and there just doesn’t do it. Some people feel good, governments can say they’re supporting the environment, but then why do I see, day after day, a deluge of mud flowing down the river and out to sea?

Why is this river rated one of the worst in the State, and probably Australia, where oysters can’t survive and fish stocks have collapsed?

Ballina Council imposed a levy, but where was that money spent? Why isn’t the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), who are responsible for the administration and development of agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, forestry and biosecurity, spending serious money helping farmers transition from old destructive practices?

All sides and levels of government must get together and plough some money into this major problem so we reap the benefits and get a net improvement in our land management and river health.

At the next local, state, and federal elections demand that your representative has land care as a major platform.

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  1. Richard, it’s great to see interested people becoming involved and submitting letters regarding the appalling state of the Richmond River, your frustration with the lack of major rehabilitation work is evident. However, you will have to join the club with the rest of us who have been campaigning for major changes to flood-plain management since the massive fish kills of 2001 and 2008 with limited success.
    However, it is not fair to trivialize the efforts of dedicated community groups like AusFish, Richmond River Rescue, Landcare and others, who have managed to achieve some great riparian zone rehabilitation work with very limited resources and funding. Major improvement in river health will not occur until sulphuric acid run off from reclaimed wetlands and monosulfidic discharge, during flood events is brought under control. Almost every creek and farm drain on the entire floodplain is permanently flood- gated, stopping natural tidal waterflow and allowing a massive build-up of contaminants during dry periods.
    Some progressive landholders have come on board and are willing to trial new management practices and credit to them. However, all floodgates on private land are, by law controlled by the landholder and it’s extremely difficult for Local Govt, authorities to force change, the power to do that resides with the State Govt., in particular two National Party Ministers. Ballina MP. Tamara Smith has raised the issue in Parliament, and in March 2020 Lismore Labor MP. Janelle Saffin introduced a bill to Parliament requesting both the National Party Ministers for Agriculture and Environment to step up and clean up the Richmond catchment, and to this day they have not responded.
    Our local MLC. Ben Franklin is reported to not even be willing to discuss the issue with local aquaculture stakeholders who have also been campaigning for action. So Richard, this is where we are, many have been trying for many years. The only plausible solution is obviously to remove the National Party, and preferably the whole corrupt NSW. Govt. at the next election and replace them with a Govt. that takes the environment seriously all the time, not only when they are desperate to hold onto marginal seats. Richard, if you or anybody else wants to get more involved, myself or others involved are not hard to find.


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