The Macquarie River re-regulating dam is an extremely expensive, environmentally destructive project that will only benefit irrigators from Burrendong dam to Marebone weir. Like all dams, this project will benefit those upstream, and leave those downstream to survive if they can on ever drier river beds and floodplains.
So how can the NSW Government and WaterNSW present this project to the public in a palatable way? Enter the spin doctors.
The community was told in community consultations (hosted by GHD and WaterNSW) in November 2019 that the licenced environmental water holders supported the project, as their accounts will have more water in them, and there will be a fishway on the project.
WRONG – the project will mean a lot less freely flowing water in the Macquarie, and a little bit more water in licenced environmental accounts. The severe and permanent loss of habitat and the change in flow regimes will have devastating impacts on wildlife including endangered and threatened iconic Murray Cod, and centuries old river red gums – this damage cannot be ameliorated by a fishway.
The overall impact to the environment will be significantly negative. It has since been confirmed that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holders’ Office, NSW DPIE EES, nor NSW Fisheries have never publicly endorsed the project. We were lied to.
At another public consultation in November 2019, the public were told that the project would be good for the Macquarie Marshes, because they get too much water and the roots of the plants rot. This is a direct lie that feeds into the narrative in this valley about the Marshes getting ‘too much water’.
There has been a long running and toxic campaign in the Macquarie Valley to paint the picture that the Macquarie Marshes gets too much water, perpetuated by vested interests upstream.
WaterNSW take advantage of this biased, untrue story when it suits them.
Earlier in 2020, Adrian Langdon from WaterNSW presented the following misleading graph to the public at a drought update hosted by Dubbo Regional Council.
PROBLEM #1 It appears the 20% shown here as ‘other flows to the Marshes’ is actually essential requirements (or delivery water). Essential requirements is the water used to deliver orders.
For reference, this pie graph shows a typical proportion of the water resource that is considered essential requirements – it’s usually the biggest piece of the pie by far.
WaterNSW are very proud of how tightly they operate the regulated section of the Macquarie River, reducing the volumes used to deliver orders to under 3% of delivered volumes. It is extremely unlikely that over a whole year any essential requirements water reached the Macquarie Marshes.
PROBLEM #2: The 38% ‘Flood Water on Floodplain’ includes vast, unmeasured and undeclared volumes of water that is diverted by levies for free into private storage – or floodplain harvesting. Healthy Rivers Dubbo estimates the volume taken in the valley in 2020 through floodplain harvesting was staggering – somewhere around 90 to 130 billion litres.
WaterNSW representing essential requirements on a graph as ‘other flows to the Marshes’ is outrageous and misleading.
Technically, essential requirements are classed as a type of Planned Environmental Water (PEW). When the NSW Government and WaterNSW are trying to present the message to the public that irrigation only takes a certain % of water from a river system (17% in the case of the Macquarie), they are very happy to imply that all water that isn’t taken for irrigation goes to the environment.
The Mayor of Narromine Craig Davis and Dugald Saunders MP Member for Dubbo are among those who publicly perpetuate the myth that 17% of flows on the Macquarie go to irrigation, and 80% goes to the environment.
This assertion is harmful and factually incorrect.
According to the above graph “Where Water Went”, 10% was managed for the environment including the Macquarie Marshes.
It is also possible that the public incorrectly believe that 17% of flows go to irrigation every year. The water shares owned by irrigation is more than those owned and managed for the environment. If flood events were taken out of the longterm average of water taken for irrigation, the % would be more like 45 – 60%.
When it comes to justifying the Macquarie River re-regulating storage however, the NSW government, WaterNSW and even the Mayor of Narromine and Member for Dubbo are strong in their assertion that operational surpluses belong to irrigators, and need to be physically recaptured and re-regulated.
Without clear, uniform definitions of environmental water, the Government and industry can pick and choose the definition the want to use to suit the message they want to spin.