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Still a Dying Darling-Baaka River

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
8 September 2020

The confluence of the Murray Darling river system tells two very different stories. One is of a river that consistently flows, with communities, farms and businesses flourishing along its length. The other is a story, in fact thousands of them. Stories about people, communities, businesses and an entire river system that has at best been forgotten and at worst being sacrificed by governments that have been captured by powerful vested interests upstream.

It’s this second story that has brought me out west to meet with communities, starting at Wentworth where the two rivers join. There, I met with Wentworth Shire Councillor and water campaigner Jayne McAllister who showed me the start of the controversial new pipeline that sucks water from the Murray River and takes it all the way to the mines and township of Broken Hill. For decades, Broken Hill got its water from Menindee Lakes. 

Start of the controversial Broken Hill pipeline

Start of the controversial Broken Hill pipeline

Many people believe the pipeline was built so that big corporate irrigators in the north of the basin could take even more water from the system without having to worry about leaving any in Menindee Lakes. This is despite communities, like Wilcannia and Menindee, still relying upon this water (stay tuned for more about the disgraceful situation at Menindee Lakes in my next post).

On the road to Pooncarie from Wentworth, I stopped off to meet Alan Whyte, whose family has been farming citrus for generations on the banks of the Darling-Baaka River. He’s one of a group of citrus growers who recently came to an agreement with the Federal Government to give up growing citrus and sell their water allocations. In reality that meant bulldozing thousands of citrus trees, some of which had borne fruit for 25 or more years, and leaving the family farm. This was done with the knowledge that farmers in other parts of the basin were planting massive crops of almond trees, a thirstier crop than cotton.

Having a cuppa with Alan

Having a cuppa with Alan

As we sipped tea on his back porch and watched a pair of Crimson Rosellas darting in between the old river red gums on the river’s banks, Alan told me a hell of a lot about water and about how his passion for tinkering with old machinery will now get his undivided attention. As I said goodbye to him I was conscious that Alan had talked with a lot of politicians about water over the years and many had let him down. While the Greens aren’t in government and so can’t introduce laws to put more water into the Darling-Baaka, I can certainly do all I can to keep the pressure on the National Party NSW Water Minister, Melinda Pavey. 

After thanking Alan for his time we headed north past Pooncarie to Tolarno Station, stopping there overnight to spend some time with Rob McBride and his daughter Kate. The McBrides have received a significant amount of media attention in recent years as champions for the Darling-Baaka River, particularly after the devastating fish kills over summer.

Arriving at Tolarno with Rob and Kate McBride

Arriving at Tolarno with Rob and Kate McBride

I’ve visited the station twice before and this was the greenest I’d seen it, with hardy shrubs and grasses covering much of the red dirt. As Kate drove me around parts of their property in the family land cruiser, she told me how the recent rains had given everything a drink and reduced the terrible dust storms that were so frequent last summer. There was also water in the Darling-Baaka, but not much, and not nearly as much as communities were expecting from the floods that occurred in mid-March in parts of Qld and northern NSW.

Great to catch up with Kate McBride, an inspiring young leader and champion for the Darling-Baaka River and regional communities

Great to catch up with Kate McBride, an inspiring young leader and champion for the Darling-Baaka River and regional communities

That’s because the Nationals’ Melinda Pavey allowed big irrigators upstream in the northern part of the basin to hold back massive quantities of floodwaters after the heavy rains. That water should have made its way into wetlands right along the Darling and its tributaries and across the floodplains. Instead it is being held in massive storages upstream, largely for cotton irrigation, and they haven’t had to pay a cent for it. Much of the Murray-Darling basin system is a series of vast floodplains which, by its very nature, need to flood to maintain its overall health. By holding vast amounts of floodwater in massive private storages upstream, the Darling River is dying a slow painful death. 

The Darling-Baaka. A once mighty river being deliberately sacrificed by governments captured by vested interests.

The Darling-Baaka. A once mighty river being deliberately sacrificed by governments captured by vested interests.

Who has decided this? Is it official government policy to sacrifice an entire river system? Is it official government policy to abandon communities and businesses, First Nations peoples, farmers and entire towns for big corporate irrigators upstream? Is it official government policy to allow floodwaters to be stolen from rivers, wetlands, floodplains and water users downstream? Because there is really no other way to describe what is happening. What is happening is the biggest environmental crime in the history of Australia and the National Party is overseeing it.

 

To be continued...

 

 

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
8 September 2020
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