Latest News

Upholding water laws, because the government will not!

Media Release

14 November 2017

 Community group takes legal action to enforce water laws because the Coalition government has not

The Inland Rivers Network is taking legal action to force Peter Harris, a big irrigator in the state’s northwest and a Nationals Party donor, to return more than five billion litres of water he took, allegedly illegally, from the Barwon-Darling River. [1]

“It should not fall to community groups to enforce our water laws, but the Berejiklian’s government’s inaction has left the Inland Rivers Network no option,” said Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski.

Full Details at the EDO NSW website: IRN v Harris and Another

Bureaucrats assessing Dungowan Dam must follow the law

Published in the Northern Daily Leader – Tamworth

1st January 2022

Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, seems to be blaming bureaucrats in NSW for delaying the Dungowan Dam (NDL 19 December 2021). He maintains that politicians have said that Dungowan Dam is going to happen and that ‘government is run by the people represented by politicians.’

Has Mr Joyce forgotten that elected governments make laws and bureaucrats are paid to implement those laws?

Large impactful infrastructure, like dams on rivers, must be assessed under state and federal law. In NSW there is the Environment Planning and Assessment Act, Water Management Act, Fisheries Management Act, Biodiversity Conservation Act and at the Commonwealth level there is the Water Act, Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – to name a few.

In early 2022, construction of the new pipeline between Dungowan village and Calala water treatment works will commence. This is the ‘shovels in the ground’ project that will help to save water and improve Tamworth water security. The process to assess a new dam on the already stressed Peel River must be conducted carefully and consider the many adverse impacts. Meanwhile, less expensive, more sustainable alternatives must be considered to give the best value for public investment.

It is time that the proposed Dungowan Dam stopped being used as a political football during a federal election campaign.

Inland Rivers Network president Bev Smiles

Earth First | Raising Wyangala Dam wall will not solve all problems

Bev Smiles

December 13 2021

A larger Wyangala Dam cannot solve all problems and will create many new ones.

Inland Rivers Network continues to question the rationale behind spending up to $2 billion dollars of public money on raising the Wyangala Dam Wall when the purpose of the proposal is unclear.

With the current floods in the Lachlan Valley there are conflicting calls for this proposal to provide both increased water security and improved flood mitigation.

These competing roles require different dam management and water sharing arrangements. Increased water security requires a full dam while improved flood mitigation requires lower levels.

The recent high rainfall events in the upper Lachlan catchment from August to November have demonstrated that the proposed larger dam would not have prevented the floods at Forbes.

Analysis of inflows to Wyangala Dam since it first filled in August, based on real time inflow reporting on the WaterNSW website, shows that the proposed larger Wyangala Dam would have filled and spilled in early October.

Also, analysis of inflows to the Lachlan River from tributaries below the dam showed that Wyangala Dam releases from a larger dam would still have occurred at the same time the increased tributary inflows from the Belubula River, Boorowa River and other swollen water sources below the dam entered the Lachlan River upstream of Forbes.

The proposed increased capture of 650 billion litres of water would not have solved impacts of flooding at Forbes and downstream during these highly unpredictable large rainfall events.

Inland Rivers Network looks forward to the release of the next stage of the draft Lachlan Regional Water Strategy that will consider the impact of climate change on the region and prioritise a range of water security options.

The NSW Government has announced that alternative water security options will be considered in the final business case for a larger Wyangala Dam.

This is a welcome step in the assessment process for this very large and impactful proposal.

While the recent floods have been disruptive and damaging to settlements and crops on the floodplain, the rainfall has been recuperative for the natural environmental following the recent intensive drought conditions.

Depleted soil profiles and groundwater sources have been replenished.

Native fish have good breeding conditions and the best waterbird breeding since 2016 is occurring in the Lachlan wetlands.

The Listening to the Lachlan Conference in Forbes in February will discuss many of these issues.

Inland Rivers Network president Bev Smiles

https://www.cowraguardian.com.au/story/7548227/earth-first-a-larger-dam-will-not-fix-all-problems-in-the-lachlan/

Floodplain harvesting report shines a light on policy flaws

Media Release – 15th December 2021

Inland Rivers Network welcomes the release of the NSW Parliament Select Committee’s report into floodplain harvesting, which recognises the need for the NSW Government to take a lot more care in the way they propose to licence floodplain harvesting.

Floodplain harvesting is the capture of rainwater flowing overland and water overflowing from flooding rivers. This water take is not licenced or monitored. The volume of water taken has increased dramatically, since the Cap on licenced extractions commenced in 1993/1994, as have the on-farm storage volumes. Floodplain harvesting is one of the main reasons for the demise of the wetlands and the Darling Baaka River.

“We have been calling for the government to work out what the impact of decades of unchecked floodplain harvesting has been on downstream environments and communities before they issue licences, and we are pleased to see the Committee calls for that assessment to be done.” Said Brian Stevens, Secretary of Inland Rivers Network.

The report recommends that the way the Government has calculated new diversion limits for each valley be clearly explained, and they show that each new limit represents an environmentally sustainable level of water take.

“Right now there is a huge risk that the government will issue licences for far too much water, ensuring the environmental collapse of the rivers of the Northern Basin.” Said Mr Stevens.

The report makes several recommendations about illegal and unapproved floodplain works, recommending that all illegal works be removed within six months.

“Floodplain harvesting licences should not be issued to illegal and unapproved works – that should go without saying, but that’s exactly what the Government is planning to do. In the Macquarie Valley for example there are a huge number of unauthorised floodplain works that could be given floodplain harvesting licences worth millions.” Said Mr Stevens  

Inland Rivers Network calls on the NSW Government to implement all twenty-five recommendations of the report, as it is critically important that there is accurate metering and monitoring of floodplain harvesting in place before licences are handed out. Mr Stevens also called for end of system flow regulations to be introduced for each of the northern valleys, to ensure water flows in the Barwon-Darling-Baaka River.

Media Contact:  

Brian Stevens, Secretary of Inland Rivers Network – 0429 903 082

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

AGM Notice

The Annual General Meeting of the Inland Rivers Network will be held as a Zoom meeting on Friday 5th November 2021, beginning at 1 pm. Business will include the election of Committee members and the presentation of annual reports.  The AGM will be followed by a monthly committee meeting.

For a copy of the zoom details, contact

Secretary – Brian (Barney) Stevens barney.stevens@westnet.com.au

President – Bev Smiles inlandriversnetwork@gmail.com

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