Media Release – NSW pillages groundwater reserves

Inland Rivers Network is aghast at moves by the NSW Government to issue brand new access licences for groundwater throughout the state, when current access is mismanaged.

The NSW State Water Strategy, released last August, promised that the Government will develop and implement a NSW Groundwater Strategy and Action Plan to improve groundwater management across NSW. This must be done as soon as possible, and before more access licences for groundwater sources are issued.

Groundwater is too often subject to contamination and over extraction. Issuing brand new entitlements is stealing from the future, instead of fixing the problems we face now. A collapsed aquifer is water storage lost forever.

Severe droughts experienced since the turn of the millennium have seen dependence on groundwater increase sharply, leading to significant drawdown of some groundwater reserves.

“When the rivers start running low the response is to turn to groundwater, rather than deal with the huge problem of over-allocation and water mismanagement.

We need to look at ways we can take less water from the environment, like water recycling and more efficient irrigation,” said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.

Most groundwater bores aren’t required to have meters, and the rollout of compulsory metering for large bores is more of a stroll out. Even though the measurement of groundwater use is woefully inaccurate, significant levels of water theft are still detectable.

Extraction from groundwater sources in the Macquarie and Murrumbidgee valleys was found to be more than 20% over the legal limits in the 2018/2019 year, yet the excessive take was excused by the Murray Darling Basin Authority. [1]

One-tenth of groundwater users were found to be taking more groundwater than their licence allows in a pilot program run by the Natural Resources Access Regulator this year and the largest fine NRAR can issue is a paltry $1,500.

“If we have legal limits, they should mean something. The law must be applied, and the penalties for stealing water should be high enough to be a deterrent.” said Ms Smiles.

 “Groundwater is not a magic pudding we can turn to after we’ve sucked our rivers dry. We can always print more money but we can’t print water.”

Media Contact:

Beverly Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network – 0428 817 282


[1] Reference MDBA audit

Inland Fish Finally get passage funding

Media Release
9th September 2021


Inland Rivers Network is pleased to see that the final IPART determination released today has allocated funding to build long promised fishways in inland rivers.


Since 2009 WaterNSW have had a legal obligation to build eleven fishways in Inland NSW Rivers to offset the impacts to native fish of several dam upgrade projects.


Obstruction to fish passage in NSW Rivers has played a major role in native fish numbers plummeting by 90% in the last one hundred years. Addressing fish passage is a very important undertaking if this decline in population is to be slowed and turned around.


Yet the critically important fishway projects have been delayed at every hurdle, with WaterNSW citing concern over the costs. Even when the funding was raised from their customers several years ago, the money was spent on other projects.


Now, after twelve years of delays, Inland Rivers Network is very pleased to see detailed and cost efficient plans for the construction of seven of the projects in the next few years. Detailed plans for the remaining four projects will continue to be developed.


“Native Fish have strong instincts to migrate to complete their life cycles. Many obstacles have been built in rivers that stop fish movements to feeding and breeding sites. It’s very important that the problem is fixed,” said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.


There has been significant public money invested in planning for these fishways. Cost efficiency assessments for the fishway implementation strategy was completed back in 2018.


“We are very pleased to finally see detailed timelines and budgets for each project presented by WaterNSW. Significant work has happened behind the scenes planning these projects and it is none too soon for our threatened native fish,” said Ms Smiles.

Media Contacts:
Beverly Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network – 0428 817 282
Melissa Gray, Vice President of Inland Rivers Network – 0431 471 310

Final Report – Review of Water NSW’s rural bulk water prices – September 2021

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’

Media Release – Namoi Water Strategy an opportunity too good to miss

The NSW Governments’ draft Namoi Regional Water Strategy includes a lot of potentially useful and
sensible options for water security in the Namoi catchment as we face a drying, warming future.
Inland Rivers Network is concerned that by presenting the controversial Dungowan dam proposal as
a done deal, most of the good ideas could be filed away forever.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity to invest in new technologies and reduce the demand
on precious water supplies.
“Yet the National Party are stubbornly clinging to an outdated notion that building dams somehow
creates more water, when all they do is shift water from people in the lower catchment and damage
the river in the process,” said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.

The Dungowan dam proposal was used as a case study showing flawed decision making by the
Productivity Commission in their review of National Water Reform in February this year.1
“The promise that the expensive Dungowan dam could provide new water in a fully allocated system
is an illusion. All this dam would do is deny the environment and water users downstream of their
entitlements, and for those upstream send the price of water sky high.” Bev Smiles said.
The review found the dam would provide water at a cost of over $60,000 a megalitre, while the
current market price for one megalitre is $1,341.
“Clearly the dam plan doesn’t make economic sense and the community deserves to see the
business case before a funding decision is made,” said Ms Smiles
Options in the strategy that Inland Rivers Network support include research into groundwater
health, implementing the Native Fish Passage Strategy, and investment into purified recycled water
treatments for major towns.
Inland Rivers Network congratulates the NSW Government for their work alongside First Nations
Groups, and supports options to create an Aboriginal River Ranger program and secure water for
cultural sites.
“We don’t want to see this opportunity for investment in positive outcomes lost because the
Government is rusted on to last century thinking. Dams do not make water.”
Media Contacts
Bev Smiles 0428 817 282
inlandriversnetwork@gmail.com

Tusked Frog survived pandemic in Mole River ark

Mole River Protection Alliance

MEDIA RELEASE 8th March 2021

“Tusked Frogs and Northern Brown Bandicoots – both are amazing finds I would not have dreamt of” said Phil Spark who has been conducting wildlife surveys for decades. “That’s on top of Spotted-tail Quoll, Rakali, Catfish, Murray Cod and so many other species – it seems the Mole River is an ark of conservation for species that are declining or have already disappeared elsewhere.”

Mr Spark was one of three professional ecologists who spent a weekend surveying the site of a proposed dam 25 km west of Tenterfield near the NSW-Queensland border for the Mole River Protection Alliance.

He explained “This is the first place west of the Dividing Range where Tusked frogs have been found for over four decades. They used to be common in the New England Tablelands or North West Slopes but rapidly disappeared in the 1970s.”

Tusked Frogs were severely affected by a pandemic of chytrid fungus, like many other frog species around the world. The species survived in coastal regions but were feared extinct in this region where any remaining Tusked Frogs were declared an endangered population.

Mole Station owner, David Caldwell, showed the ecologists a dead Bandicoot he had found very close to the Mole River downstream from the dam site. “They were excited because bandicoots are very rare in this area. The Australian Museum advised us that there were no previous specimen-based records of this species from west of Tenterfield. The species is likely to be at the western edge of its range in this area which makes the Mole River population significant” Mr Caldwell said. “I’d not seen one before but my father remembers seeing them here long ago – it is lovely to know Bandicoots still live in our valley.”

“It was great to see a camera-trap photo of the Rakali, proving they had survived our extreme drought. Most people call them Water Rats because they live in rivers, although they are not much like rats. My grandfather told me people around here called them moles and this may be the origin of the Mole River’s name”.

Phil Sparkes shows turtles to Mole River Information Fun Day participants

NSW Fisheries surveys in early 2020 showed at least six fish species had survived the extreme drought in Mole River, including three species threatened by river regulation Murray Cod, Catfish and Purple-spotted Gudgeons.

This brief survey brought the number of fish species re-found to 8 and recorded 11 frog species, 3 kinds of turtle, 42 birds and 16 native mammal species.

Kate Boyd of the Mole River Protection Alliance says “This river valley is an ark in which so much wildlife has survived past land use changes, diseases and introduced predators. The forest on the riverbanks suffered a bit in the drought but it remained as a refuge with habitats these species need. Many thousands of bottlebrush shrubs overhanging the river channel flowered brilliantly last spring when everything was able to reproduce again.

“This is the ark in which these species have a chance of surviving climate change.”

WaterNSW proposes to build a dam that would inundate and permanently destroy about 13 km of the Mole River, plus the side creeks, River Oak forest, woodlands and productive grazing land.

“All of the Mole River downstream would be adversely impacted by greatly changed river flows if funds to build the dam are found.”

$24m of public funds are currently being spent trying to work out a final business case for the dam. Consultants have been paid to look for threatened species in the inundation site but their findings have not been made public. They may be used to calculate part of the money required to “offset” loss of threatened species – a cost to include in the business case along with construction costs and benefits – the dam is primarily to improve reliability for irrigated agriculture.

Kate Boyd says “Water NSW has not looked for threatened species on downstream properties although the impacts and “offset” cost calculations can’t be done properly without this. Mole River Protection Alliance may have to find volunteers to do its own survey of wildlife habitats downstream and indicate how big this hole in the business case could be. 

“The business case may not be made public either, unless the Premier or Treasurer are persuaded to release it before considering expenditure of more funds.

“It is not possible to offset the destruction of this whole endangered population of Tusked Frogs by a dam. These frogs live in creeks, natural rivers and on sheltered riverbanks, not in drowned dead treetops or up hills. No amount of money can create another river with the right habitats for Tusked Frogs and threatened fish to thrive in.”

The Mole River Protection Alliance, of local people and wider community interests, believes careful promotion of the valley for its wonderful wildlife and other values would be a much better future.

Contacts:            

Phil Spark            0427 642245                       

David Caldwell   02 6737 5429

Kate Boyd           0429724026   Kate can’t take calls at work 8am-5.15 Monday-Wednesday:

                                                                so please leave a text message then I will call you back

For more on Tusked Frogs:   https://australian.museum/blog/amri-news/frog-with-tusks-rediscovered/

Rakali on the Mole River
A quoll was seen under this Red Gum on the Mole River

Productivity Commission supports community call for more transparency in water management

MEDIA RELEASE
Thursday 11 February 2021

Inland Rivers Network and Tamworth Water Security Alliance welcome the draft Productivity Commission Report recommendation that all town water supply options should be on the table with a rigorous, consistent and transparent assessment of costs and benefits.
The Productivity Commission draft findings into the review of the National Water Initiative, released on 11 February, includes a chapter on Urban Water Supply. Principles recommended in Advice 11.1 ‘Best Urban System Planning’ includes that:
All supply options are considered and their relative merits subject to a rigorous, consistent and
transparent assessment of costs and benefits. 1
“Tamworth Water Security Alliance (TWSA) has been calling for all water security options to be on the table and fully costed, with an understanding of who will manage the projects, who will benefit most and who will pay,’ said David McKinnon, TWSA representative.
‘It is pleasing to see that the community position is backed up by the Australian Productivity Commission.’
‘The NSW and Federal Governments have promised a considerable amount of public funding to build a new dam at Dungowan, that may not be the best solution to Tamworth’s water security problems. It may also prove to be economically unviable,’ said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.
‘The least the community can expect is that the business case for Dungowan Dam is made available to the public so there is assurance that a rigorous cost-benefits analysis is undertaken.’
‘The people who are paying for this new dam should have access to the business case,’ said Ms Smiles. ‘There are many costs including to the health of the Peel and Namoi Rivers, downstream water users, to native fish populations, platypus and other water dependent species.

Contact: Bev Smiles 0428 817 282
David McKinnon 0417 029 392

210211 Media Release Draft Productivity Commission Report

No improvement in transparency for water ownership & trading

MEDIA RELEASE

Tuesday 2 February 2021

The NSW Government must show they are serious about managing the state’s precious water
resources by providing open public access to all water licence and water trading information.
The Inland Rivers Network submission to the public consultation that closed on 1 February
emphasised the need for a free public single source Water Register.
Like Western Australia, the NSW Water Register should include all details of water
entitlements; water allocations; meter readings; real time water account balance and all trading
activities, as well as any convictions from water theft.
The exposure of seriously poor water management by the ABC Four Corners program
‘Pumped’ in 2017, resulted in recommendations from the independent Matthews Report to
improve transparency around water ownership and trading.
“Public confidence in the State government’s approach to transparency has not improved with
the latest approach out for comment,” said Bev Smiles, President.
‘The proposal is basically business as usual with information spread across numerous
websites and a huge cost to gain access the Water Access Licence information.’
‘If other states can provide free public information from a single source, we have to ask what
is NSW hiding?’
‘The only way to avoid ongoing allegations of water theft and corruption is to be upfront about
who owns what, what they are extracting or trading and how the Government is regulating the
water industry and market,’ said Mel Gray, Healthy Rivers Dubbo
‘This Government has been sprung time after time favouring their big corporate mates at the
expense of everyone else. If they want us to trust them, this is their opportunity to come clean.’

Inland Rivers Network submission is available at:
https://inlandriversnetwork.org/campaigns/submissions/ 
More information at: https://www.industry.nsw.gov.au/water/licensing-trade/trade/have-yoursay
Contact: Bev Smiles 0428 817 282
Mel Gray 0431 471 310

210202 No improvement in transparency for water ownership & trading

 

Water Rorts to be Entrenched.

Inland Rivers Network has slammed the NSW Government initial approach to licencing the
previously illegal capture of flood flows into private farm dams in north-west NSW. The
proposal is to grant a new, free, tradable property right to irrigators, with almost unlimited
permission to capture flood water.
A submission to the proposed licencing and management of flood water capture (known as
Floodplain Harvesting) in the NSW Border Rivers valley has highlighted ongoing favouritism
to the irrigation industry at the expense of river health and downstream communities in a highly
variable river system.
‘The Darling River gets all its water from its tributaries, and the Border Rivers catchment is a
major source,’ said Brian Stevens, Secretary of Inland Rivers Network.
‘The proposed approach of capturing flood flows for private gain in the Border Rivers will rob
water from downstream communities, destroy important cultural heritage values, and
effectively kill native fish and the river communities all the way to Menindee Lakes.’
‘Proposed rules to grant an initial 500% of new licence allocations and to allow 500% carryover
will result in capture of all small and medium sized floods and severely reduce the downstream
benefits of large floods.’
The fact that NSW Government water agencies are making an attempt to regulate Floodplain
Harvesting should be congratulated but this particular approach mirrors the harsh criticism
handed down by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Friday 27
November.
‘ICAC highlighted the undue focus on irrigators’ interests within water agencies and the lack
of transparency, balance and fairness in consultation processes,’
‘This is exactly what has happened with the assessment of volumes and rules for new
Floodplain Harvesting licences – windfall private property rights for an elite set of irrigators.’
‘New proposed rules will mean business as usual with limited change to flood access and new
exemptions for capture of rainfall runoff. Our northern inland rivers will continue to suffer.’
Inland Rivers Network maintains that the health of the Border and Darling Rivers will not
improve with the proposed regulation of Floodplain Harvesting in the Border Rivers. This is
the first cab off the rank with rules for the other four catchments, Gwydir, Namoi, Macquarie
and Barwon-Darling due out early next year.
Contact: Brian Stevens 0429 903 082
Jonathan Howard 0422 266 023

No reason to fast-track Wyangala dam project

MEDIA RELEASE

No reason to fast-track Wyangala Dam project

Friday 2 October 2020

The NSW Government is commencing preparation work for the construction of an enlarged
storage at Wyangala Dam on the Lachlan River without a business case or planning approvals.
Inland Rivers Network and the Upper Galari Traditional Owners Group condemn the undue
haste when Wyangala Dam is currently over 60% full.

‘There is no need to rush this very large, expensive project that will have significant cultural
heritage, environmental, social and economic impacts in the Lachlan Valley,’ said Bev Smiles,
President of Inland Rivers Network.

‘There is enough water for everyone, with more flowing in.’
The area of the project, Wyangala Dam, is located on Wiradjuri Country.
‘Traditional Owners, elders and the local community from the Upper Bila Galari (Lachlan
River) have always held strong cultural ties to our connection to country and the cultural
significance of our rivers,’ said Isabel Coe, Traditional Owner

‘The plans to ‘fast track this project’ without the culturally appropriate knowledge holders of
the project area is detrimental to our culture and heritage. As Traditional Owners we do not
support the decision by proponents to attempt to engage with interested parties who do not
speak for country. Organisations involved in the cultural heritage assessment report have no
right to allow parties who do not come from Wiradjuri to speak on our behalf,’ said Isabel
Coe.
‘This whole landscape is sacred to the Traditional Owners and clan groups of the Wiradjuri
Nation with over 329 identified sites to be desecrated by the proposed inundation along the
Lachlan River.’

‘The water flow of the Abercrombie and Lachlan river running into Wyangala will be
disrupted with water being pushed back upstream causing major stagnation and water
pollution to the freshwater ecosystem. Downstream of the Lachlan river – the Belubula,
creeks and further down wetlands environmental flow will also be impacted as water and
floods help flush and replenish the waterways,’ said George Coe, Traditional owner.

Both Inland Rivers Network and the Upper Galari Traditional Owners Group are critical of the
poor consultation with community groups in the region.

‘This rush to start work is based on political announcements and National Party promises. It is
without proper assessment or clear communication about the economic impacts, or even the
need for more water to be captured from the Lachlan River,’ said Bev Smiles

Contacts: Isabel Coe 0412 239 256
George Coe 0413 282 464
Bev Smiles 0428 817 282

201002 No reason to fast-track Wyangala Dam project