Media Release: Stronger control of floodplain harvesting needed

MEDIA RELEASE
Stronger control of floodplain harvesting needed
Friday 13 August 2021

Inland Rivers Network has told the NSW Parliamentary Select Inquiry into floodplain harvesting that current NSW Government policy will ensure the continued destruction of the river systems.


Barney Stevens from the Inland Rivers Network said: “The Barwon-Darling-Baaka River depends on its tributaries for water, but continued growth in extractions has destroyed the river and brought on the huge fish kills. One of the major factors in river destruction has been the illegal capture of floodplain flows by irrigators. Now the NSW Government intend to licence this water theft, and the size of each licence will nearly match the amount of water stolen over the past years. The plan is to not only maintain the volume of water taken from the rivers, but to make the licences tradeable. This will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in new property rights awarded to irrigators at no cost to them, only an enormous cost to the river system. Before any floodplain licences are granted there needs to be regulations ensuring adequate flows out of the end of each tributary”


A submission lodged by the Inland Rivers Network with the inquiry today shows that the proposals favour the irrigation industry at the expense of the health of river systems and downstream communities. The submission highlights the lack of environmental assessment of floodplain works, or of flow connectivity needs within valleys and between valleys, in the process leading to regulation of floodplain harvesting in the NSW Northern Basin.

Jonathon Howard from Inland Rivers Network said: “Flood flows are critical for wetlands, fish breeding, groundwater recharge and support of culturally significant areas in the landscape. The current process of assessing and regulating floodplain harvesting will lock in ongoing degradation of our river systems.”

“The NSW Government has no process to remove illegal or environmentally damaging structures on floodplains. This issue must be addressed before new licences for floodplain harvesting are issued.”


Contact: Brian (Barney) Stevens 0429 903 082
Jonathon Howard 0422 266 023

Morrison Government Failing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

MEDIA RELEASE

Thursday 27 May 2021

The Morrison Government is failing the Basin Plan by shifting money for the environment to the irrigation industry. A report released today by The Australia Institute has exposed that billions of dollars earmarked for the environment is now going to NSW irrigators for bridge upgrades and new fences.

The Federal Government has $1.48 billion to invest on the public’s behalf to return 450 billion litres (GL) of water to improve river health in the Murray-Darling Basin by 2024.

The projects listed for investment of public funds include fencing, upgrading 1,200 bridges on farms and cleaning out irrigation channels – all in NSW.

“Serious questions must be asked about how upgrading 1,200 bridges and building fences for their mates in NSW could return water to the rivers. The situation is absurd.” says Bev Smiles, President of the Inland Rivers Network.        

To date the Morrison Government has spent $68 million on projects that have apparently returned just 2.1 GL of water to the Basin, meaning the water came at an outrageous cost.

Inland Rivers Network is calling on the Federal Government to immediately conduct a full audit of the program and make all of the findings public. Under the Coalition Government, secrecy has been a hallmark of the implementation of the Basin Plan.

Last year an independent review of the plan to return the 450 GL of water to the rivers through efficiency projects found that it was doomed to fail, triggering calls for the Morrison Government to resume open tender buy backs of water from willing sellers.

“This Government are blowing the last chance we have to protect the biggest river system in Australia. The most efficient and cost effective way to return water to rivers is to buy it from willing sellers, and we know there are plenty of willing sellers out there.

“The Morrison Government isn’t even pretending to honour the agreements made at the 2012 signing of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Their disregard for the law, for the rivers of the Basin and the people who live here is staggering.” Says Ms Smiles.

Media Contact

Bev Smiles 0428 817 282

inlandriversnetwork@gmail.com

Read The Australia Institute report ‘1,200 Bridges’

Communities are asking – Show Us the Business Cases!

Four dam projects are speeding through the approvals process in Western NSW:

  • Raising of Wyangala Dam Wall
  • Mole River Dam
  • Macquarie River re-regulating storage project at Gin Gin
  • Dungowan Creek Dam.

Taxpayers of NSW need to know how public funds will be invested (or wasted)

Send a message to the Premier to release all dam business cases when finalised.

The Business Case for the Macquarie River project is done and should be released immediately. The Business Cases for the other proposals must be released as soon as they are finalised.

More information:

On the Lachlan River people want answers:

“This project is a captain’s pick. The dam proponents have greatly exaggerated the benefits and the costs have been grossly underestimated. There is no coherent cost-benefit analysis.” said the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists’ spokesman, Jamie Pittock, a professor in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University.

Costs estimates have soared – originally a $650 million cost, now estimates are as high as $2.1 billion dollars.

There are better options for reducing the demand for water in the Lachlan, like the upgrading of Jemalong Irrigation infrastructure. Will these options be considered in the business case?

We want to know, will the Government follow the recommendations of the Legislative Council report Part 1 “Rationale for, and impacts of, new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW”?

Send a tweet to the Premier – @GladysB – Will you release the Wyangala dam business case? #Wyangala

Image WaterNSW

On the Mole River residents are angry:

“People along the Mole and Dumaresq Rivers below the dam site have been increasingly frustrated by WaterNSW failure to meet with them, discuss options for water management or to provide useful answers to questions. By pressing ahead in this way with a business case for a dam recently considered uneconomic, when these affected people are still in drought and struggling to recover from extreme fires, the government shows a lack of empathy.” Says local Mr Bruce Norris.

Environmental impacts within the dam footprint are being assessed… But are impacts downstream being assessed – on ground water intake? Aquatic ecosystems? Wetland such as Boobera Lagoon? Or on people along the Barwon Darling?

Email the Premier and ask – Will you release the business case for the Mole River Dam? What is your Government trying to hide? #MoleRiverProtectionAlliance

On the Wambool-Macquarie River trust in NSW’s water management doesn’t exist:

The community have not forgotten how close we came to losing the river in the recent drought as a direct consequence of NSW mismanagement of water.

The proposed Gin Gin dam would give water agencies even more control over the river, and the means to sell even more water for extraction.

“We need to know what is in the business case. How much would this dam cost? Why are the public expected to foot the bill for a dam that will only benefit a few corporate and private interests?” says Mel Gray, convenor of Healthy Rivers Dubbo.

Less water in the river and a loss of habitat will hit struggling native fish populations hard. Will the financial impact of fewer fishers in the valley, and less water for downstream irrigators be assessed?

Tweet Dubbo’s local member @DugaldSaunders and ask – What is in the Macquarie River re-regulating storage business case? Show us the detail. #NoGinGinDam

In Tamworth residents want real water security:

Recently the Productivity Commission’s draft report on National Water Reform used the Dungown dam proposal as a case study for flawed decision making.

The dam is estimated to provide on average 6,000 megalitres of water a year, at a cost of more than $60,000 per megalitre. By comparison, the current market price of one megalitres is $1,341.

The report also pointed out the inescapable truth – that the water system is fully allocated, and any promise of ‘new water’ from this dam is an illusion.

Rather than spend $484 million on a dam, the same volume of water could be bought from entitlement owners for just $10 million dollars a year.

How can the business case for a dam proposal that the Productivity Commission chose to use as a case study for flawed decision making stand up to public scrutiny?

Email the Premier and ask – Does the business case for the Dungown dam proposal include options like using purified water in communities? Please release the business case!  #NoDungowanDam

Image: Namoi Valley Independent

Everybody wants to see the business cases!

Floodplain water harvesting in the Northern New South Wales Murray-Darling Basin February 2021 – Slattery & Johnson

When the major rivers of the Northern Murray-Darling Basin flow onto their lower floodplains they break up into thousands of smaller rivers, creeks, cowals, warrambools, flood runners and billabongs. One of these is the designated river. The floodplains of the Northern Basin make up a vast interconnected network of these streams. Floodplain water harvesting is the take of water from these floodplains.

Despite it being a large proportion of water taken for irrigation in the NSW part of the Northern Murray-Darling Basin it has never been regulated, measured or reported. The NSW government intends to license and regulate floodplain water harvesting by July 2021. Extraction will be accounted for under a water access licence, basic landholder right or licence exemption, ensuring that it is consistent with the Water Management Act 2000.

The amount of water taken by floodplain water harvesting will be measured and the volume distributed, after it is licensed. Owners of floodplain water harvesting licences will be able to be compensated for these new licences, should they be reduced in future.

Floodplain water harvesting has never been licensed, measured or monitored in NSW. On the 24th of March 2020, Helen Dalton, the NSW Member for Murray, asked Melinda Pavey, the Minister for Water, Property and Housing, in the NSW
Parliament:
What has been the volume of water extracted through floodplain harvesting in each financial year between 1993-94 and 2018-19?
The Minister replied:
“There is currently very limited data on the volume of water that has been extracted through floodplain harvesting in New South Wales because such volumes have not been required to be reported by landholders.”

At a public meeting in Dubbo on 16th March 2018 an officer of the NSW water department acknowledged that the volume of water taken by floodplain water harvesting had been:
“…grossly underestimated, …there is currently no monitoring of floodplain harvesting diversions.”

This report:

• Provides a background and summary of the NSW floodplain water harvesting policy and its implementation,

• Reviews research and reports related to floodplain water harvesting,

• Provides a map of on-farm storages on the floodplains of the NSW part of the Northern Murray-Darling Basin and the capacity of those storages.

Read the report here.21022 FPH Final Report

Dungown Dam project slammed as unfeasible by report

The Productivity Commission released its Draft Report on National Water Reform on the 11th February 2021.

In relation to water infrastructure spend, the Commission found that decisions “reflect a suite of weaknesses in decision making by governments” in the following ways:

  • Project selection processes do not always identify a clear issue, or consider the full suite
    of options (including non-infrastructure) to address that issue
  • Business cases are not long-term or comprehensive, and assumptions are not always
    rigorous or transparent
  • Decision-making processes lack transparency.

The Commission used the example of the fast-racked Dungown Dam project near Tamworth as an example – a project currently under the scrutiny of a NSW Upper House Inquiry.

Flawed decision making for Dungowan Dam (page 171)

“… the proposed dam is a costly way to protect general security licences, relative to the value of the water. The dam is estimated to provide an additional 6 GL of water (annual average) which has a current market value of only $11 million. By comparison, if the additional water was issued as entitlements to general security irrigators at full cost, it would
be valued at more than $60 000/ML”

“Moreover, the prospect of ‘new’ water is illusory. Because the proposed project is within a fully-allocated water system, it will result in an implicit (and expensive) transfer of water. Any infrastructure that improves reliability for one user will affect water availability for others.”

Sydney Morning Herald 11th Feb 21 Shane Wright & Mike Foley: Productivity Commission slams government’s water plan, warns cities could run dry

“The PC noted what it described as the “flawed” planning process for the Dungowan Dam near the northern inland NSW city of Tamworth. The project, initially priced at $150 million, is now slated to cost the federal and NSW governments $484 million for water the commission estimates is worth just $10 million a year.”

The Land 11th Feb 21 Madeline Link: Report declares $480 million Dungowan dam project ‘unviable’

“… the commission has now declared the project is based on “flawed decision-making”. It highlighted the prospect of ‘new’ water is “illusory”, and because the project is already in a fully-allocated water system, it will lead to an expensive transfer of water. “Any infrastructure that improves reliability for one user will affect water availability for others,” the report read.”

“It found the cost-benefit ratio was based on ‘optimistic assumptions’ like the willingness of the locals to pay for fewer water restrictions. The original analysis ignored no-build options like purchasing general security entitlements, which would likely come at just two per cent of the Dungowan Dam construction cost. And, the scope of the project was “narrowly” defined, focused only on long-term water supply, rather than ensuring water security in extreme droughts.”

Sydney Morning Herald 11th Feb 21 Shane Wright & Mike Foley: Costly with ‘illusory’ promise of new water: NSW’s $484m dam declared a dud

“If the extra water was offered to farmers, it would be worth about $60,000 a megalitre compared to relative current prices of $1341 a megalitre. “Irrigators are unlikely to be willing to pay for the additional water, highlighting the poor viability of the project,” it found.”

The Land 4th Jan 21 Billy Jupp: Tamworth ecologist Phil Spark calls for government to review options on new dams in light of rain

“RECENT rainfall has prompted renewed calls for the state government to explore recycled water options rather than building new dams.”

The Mole River Protection Alliance

ABC Radio interview – Mole River Dam 19/2/21

Love Our River!

The Mole River Protection Alliance wishes to invite you and your friends to join us for an INFORMATION FUN DAY on Sunday 24th January 2021. See the Invitation for details!

Parliamentarians told to drop Mole Dam idea

The Mole River dam should be removed from the NSW list of Critical State Significant Infrastructure. This was the opening recommendation of members of the Mole River Protection Alliance who were invited to give evidence to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the rationale for proposed new dams. The project west of Tenterfield is listed under the NSW Water Supply (Critical Needs) Act.

Mr Bruce Norris explained that the dam will not meet the needs of any of the localities listed in the Act as having critical needs. “The closest is Walgett where the weir has been raised this year meeting that need” he said. “The principal purpose of the Mole River dam appears to be improving irrigation security. “However, many irrigators along the Mole and  Dumaresq believe that the dam will make their enterprises less viable.”

$24 million is currently being spent on a final business case although a recent feasibility study showed this dam would be uneconomic.  Mr Norris said “People along the Mole and Dumaresq Rivers below the dam site have been increasingly frustrated by WaterNSW’s failure to meet with them, discuss options for water management or to provide useful answers to questions.  “By pressing ahead in this way with a business case for a dam recently considered uneconomic, when these affected people are still in drought and struggling to recover from extreme fires, the government shows a lack of empathy.”

Convenor of the Mole River Protection Alliance, Ms Kate Boyd, spoke about water planning and assessment processes.
“The draft Regional Water Strategy for the Border Rivers was released but no meeting was held near Tenterfield, Bonshaw or Collarenebri to discuss it. It includes 50 options for changing water management. Most are good options. Building this dam is not an option.”
Completing the business case is included as a commitment in the draft Strategy which is open for public comment until 13 December.
Ms Boyd said “The general public, particularly people along the Barwon Darling and everyone in the Border Rivers, should be involved in deciding what objectives they want achieved.” She wants the NSW Government to involve the public in choosing objectives now, instead of rushing ahead with a business case for a dam. “This is a necessary input to any business case.”

Ms Boyd summarised a few of the unknowns regarding the Government’s process of developing a business case for damming the Mole River.
• Will the business case for this dam consider as an alternative to the dam the implementation of all the good options [in the draft Regional Water Strategy]?
• Precisely how is the 24 million dollars of taxes being expended?
• Will scenarios to be trialed in models of use of the dam water be discussed with the community [to make sure it is a realistic business case – not just released after it is all finalised]?
• Environmental impacts within the dam footprint are being assessed. Are impacts down stream being assessed – on ground water intake? aquatic ecosystems? wetland such as Boobera Lagoon? or on people along the Barwon Darling?

Bruce Norris concluded the presentation to the Parliamentary Committee, saying “As a directly affected land holder, the rational for this dam is lost on me. The inability to input our view into the development process is frustrating and emotionally draining. Any of the proposed benefits seem to be negated by the losses likely to be incurred financially by
those businesses within the Mole and Dumaresq river systems.
He requested “that all information gathered, and modelling undertaken be publicly released, peer reviewed and discussed with the community as part of the process of developing the business case unless the whole idea is dropped.”
Mr Norris and Ms Boyd then answered questions on impacts of the dam and better ways to enable communities to cope with limited water availability.
Contacts
Bruce Norris
Phone (02) 6737 5573
Bruce and Helen Norris own “Ringtree” – one of two properties where homes as well as
good land are to be inundated.
Kate Boyd
Phone 0429 724 026
Convenor of Mole River Protection Alliance – a group of local and broader community interests
formed to examine the dam proposal.
For more details see Mole River Protection Alliance submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry

___________________________________

MEDIA RELEASE Mole River Dam is a bad idea

Tuesday 20 October 2020

The impacts of the proposed Mole River Dam will be far greater than any expected benefits according to the Mole River Protection Alliance, a group of local and broader community interests formed to examine the dam proposal.
‘The Mole River Dam is not beneficial investment of public money,’ said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.
‘Dams have a major impact on river health both upstream and downstream, affecting native fish populations, habitats and natural flows. Mole River is one of the healthiest rivers in the MurrayDarling Basin.’
‘Even after the drought, the river supports Murray Cod and other fish threatened by river regulation. Natural flows from Mole River are very important. High flows and floods top up groundwater for later use, fill wetlands or meet the needs of fish and people down the Barwon and Darling. Some of the normal flow and higher flows are already extracted for irrigation along the Mole, Dumaresq or near Goondiwindi, and the remaining flows are essential for ecosystems, towns and stock and domestic users.’
The allocation of $24m of public funds to develop a business case and environmental assessment for a Mole River Dam is not about more water security for Tenterfield nor water for industries on the tablelands. The dam would be 400 metres lower than Tenterfield. There will be no pipeline to pump water up.
‘This public money would be better invested in improved services for Tenterfield that provide long term jobs and more economic stimulus, such as improved health services, a new youth centre, better internet connections and mobile coverage, and industry innovation,’ said impacted landowner, Bruce Norris.
The proposed dam will flood out over 800 ha of productive farm land. ‘We have farmed this country for four generations, said Rob Caldwell. ‘It is good agricultural land that should be protected, not lost under a dam.’
‘While there may be benefits to some downstream water users, this is not clear, and there has been no information about changes to water licences or other legal aspects of the proposal.’
‘There will be significant impacts on the natural environment with a permanent change to the river flow and ramifications for the Murray-Darling Basin,’ said Sarah Caldwell, downstream at Mole Station Native Nursery.
‘Most of the environmental impacts of this dam cannot be offset in any meaningful way. The value of our natural systems should be appreciated.’
The Mole River Protection Alliance considers that community consultation about the proposed dam has been very poor.
‘Previous economic studies for a dam on Mole River have shown the project to be unviable. We believe that this hasn’t changed and look forward to learning more about the basis for the business case that WaterNSW is developing. It should not cost $24m to provide this,” said Bev Smiles.

 

Tamworth ecologist Phil Spark calls for government to review options on new dams in light of rain

The Land – Billy Jupp. 4 Jan 2021

“… after much of the state received welcome rainfall throughout 2020, Tamworth ecologist Phil Spark is urging the governments to reconsider the options surrounding water security.

“Now is the time to make some really good decisions that will look after water security for the long-term,” Mr Spark said.

“I hope this rain can allow a bit of room to breath and some time for investigation of the different options.

“I think there is enough wheels in motion now that those considerations will get more investigation.”

Read Story Here

Management of the 2020 Northern Basin First Flush Event – NSW

Independent Panel Assessment of the Management of the 2020 Northern Basin First Flush Event

Final Report – September 2020

From late January to the end of April 2020, widespread rain fell across various parts of northwest New South Wales (NSW) and southern Queensland, with some parts receiving more than
200 mm of rain in just a couple of days. This rainfall created significant inflows
to the Northern Murray-Darling Basin Border Rivers, Peel, Namoi, Gwydir and Macquarie
valleys and along the Barwon-Darling River, for the first time in several years following an
extended record drought.

A series of temporary restrictions on water extractions (including by floodplain harvesting)
across the northern NSW rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin were introduced in January-March
2020 under the provisions of the NSW Water Management Act 2000 (WM Act), to responsively
manage the first flows and prioritise water security for critical human and environmental needs
which had been exacerbated by the extreme drought. This became known as the 2020 Northern
Basin First Flush event. It was the first time that NSW managed a first flush event in this way.

In March 2020, the NSW Government commissioned an independent assessment into the
management of the 2020 Northern Basin First Flush event following the 2018-2019 drought in
the Northern Murray-Darling Basin.

Key Findings:
  • Management of the 2020 Northern Basin First Flush Event was complex.
  • The first flush event achieved some wonderful outcomes for an environment and communities in need.
  • These positive outcomes have been overshadowed by significant levels of frustration and stress across communities.
  • The Panel believes that there was insufficient resourcing in place to adequately plan and communicate for the first flush event.
  • The decision-making framework and flow forecasting were reasonably robust, but there are some important improvements to be made.
  • Transparency of decision-making and communications need to be improved for future events.
  • Use of temporary water restrictions demonstrated NSW Government’s commitment to protecting environmental water and implementing some, but not all, of the recommendations arising from the Ken Matthews inquiry, Vertessy report and NRC review.
  • The continued implementation of NSW reforms regarding metering, floodplain harvesting and connectivity is crucial to improving first flush management.
  • While first flush events could be successfully managed under temporary water restrictions, embedding arrangements in the regulatory and policy framework would enhance transparency and certainty.

IRN submission to the draft report 200809

Overview of the final report

Final Report

Controversial Menindee Lakes proposal labelled a waste of time as stakeholder group puts talks on hold

ABC Broken Hill

By Declan Gooch and Christopher Testa

Landholders frustrated over a controversial plan to store less water in the Menindee Lakes have suspended talks with the NSW Government.

Key points:

  • The NSW Government wants to reduce evaporation at the Menindee Lakes
  • It is proposing several changes that would result in the Menindee Lakes holding less water
  • Stakeholders say the Government first needs to ensure water can make it there from upstream

The Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project proposes changes to rules and infrastructure at the lakes to reduce the level of evaporation.

The changes would have the effect of reducing the usual capacity of the lakes, which opponents say would result in longer periods of no flow in the Darling River below them.

Read the full story here