Blackwater in the Darling-Baaka

Blackwater event happen when a lot leaf litter and other carbon from floodplains is washed into rivers during big flood events. When floods become less regular, the healthy balance is lost – too much carbon builds up and blackwater events become dangerous.

More frequent overbank flood events would reduce the instance of blackwater events. In recent decades the over allocation of water licences and a sharp increase in floodplain harvesting has created a perfect storm for the Darling-Baaka.

Following is a comprehensive update from the NSW Government on the event currently impacting the river.

Media Release: Transparency from NSW Government still hard to find.

30th January 2022

Repeated calls for the NSW Government to publically release the final business cases for a series of dam proposals continue to be ignored, despite the government ranking improved transparency as their number one priority in the State Water Strategy.

The Legislative Council Portfolio Committee No.7 Planning and Environment Rationale for, and impacts of, new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW: Part 2 report was tabled in parliament on September 20 2021. Last Friday the NSW Government released its response to the report.

The Part 2 report covers Dungowan dam, Mole River dam, Macquarie River re-regulating storage project (aka the Gin Gin dam), Western weirs and Menindee Lakes water savings project.

Referring to the Dungowan proposal the government response bluntly states “… the Final Business Case will not be publically available”.

“How can the public trust that the impacts the Gin Gin dam would have on wetlands, fish, birds and freshwater mussels downstream is being fully considered, if we don’t get to see the business case?” Said Mel Gray, convenor of Healthy Rivers Dubbo.

The purpose of the Gin Gin dam on the Macquarie/Wambuul River is to provide more water to fill the existing irrigation entitlements in the valley[1]. While the government response promises the significant ecological impacts of less water to the struggling Ramsar listed Macquarie Marshes[2] will be taken into consideration, it seems unlikely the government will show the public its findings.

“The Perrottet government are claiming in the State Water Strategy that their number one priority in water management is to ‘Build community confidence and capacity through engagement, transparency and accountability’. While at the same time they are steadfastly refusing to act on community calls to release crucial details. 

“By hiding from the public how big the impacts downstream will be, the government are making communities very nervous.

“Taking more water out of rivers upstream will mean less for First Nations communities, towns, recreational fishers, campers, graziers and water users downstream – it couldn’t be more simple!” Ms Gray said.

Media Contact

Mel Gray – Convenor, Healthy Rivers Dubbo 0431 471 310


[1] ref DPIE.DIP.507 Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund Project Proposal Appendix A 

[2] Notification of likely change in ecological character of the Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site to the Ramsar Secretary General on 17 July 2009 under Article 3.2 of the Ramsar Convention. 

Freshwater Mussels in the Murray Darling Basin

They are amazing biofilters, playing a crucial role in keeping rivers healthy. An abundant food source for First Nations Peoples, Freshwater Mussels are a critically important part of the web of life.

Once, they were second only to fish as the dominate life by weight in inland rivers.

The severe drought of 2017-2020, exacerbated the problems caused by decades of over extraction and mis-mangement of water in the Murray Darling Basin and the unthinkable happened – many rivers dried up completely. The Darling-Baaka was a series of small, green disconnected pools from Bourke to the Murray. The Macquarie-Wambuul was cut of at Warren, completely drying out the Macquarie Marshes and the Lower Macquaire.

Rightfully, the fish kills that resulted shocked and horrified the community. But the loss of an estimated 2.9 million Freshwater Mussels is a lesser known ecological catastrophe.

This post includes an article that appeared in The Conversation, and lower down a published study of the habitat and flow requirements of the Freshwater Mussels.

The internationally significant Macquarie Marshes is the only place in the northern Basin where remains of all three species of Freshwater Mussels that live in the basin were found. It is home to the biggest and oldest Freshwater Mussel remains that were found in the study, with one specimen measured at 137.2mm.

The presence of large, old Freshwater Mussels in places like the mid Darling-Baaka Rivers and the Macquarie Marshes proves that the natural wetting and drying patterns of these systems never included completely drying out, like they did in 2017-2020.


The Conversation – Academic rigour, journalistic flair

Professor Alan Lymbery – Jan 12th 2022

Freshwater mussels are dying suddenly and in the thousands, with each mass death event bringing these endangered molluscs closer to extinction. Tragically, these events rarely get noticed.

Read the full article here


Habitat and flow requirements of freshwater mussels in the northern Murray-Darling Basin.

Report to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office
November 2020

Fran Sheldon and Nicole McCasker
Co-authors: Michelle Hobbs, Paul Humphries, Hugh Jones, Michael Klunzinger and Mark Kennard

Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University

Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University

The authors respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands and waters of the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly those whose lands we walked on in this study, across the Darling, Barwon, Macquarie, Namoi, Gwydir and MacIntyre rivers. We acknowledge that Aboriginal peoples have cared for the rivers for millennia, and pay our respects to the Elders, past and present.

Executive Summary
Freshwater mussels are considered ecosystem engineers of rivers; they modify substrates through burrowing, mediate water quality through filtration, provide food and habitat for other organisms and play a significant role in the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients and are also seriously threatened globally. The rivers of the northern Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) are home to three species of freshwater mussel – the large ‘river mussels’ Alathyria jacksoni and Alathyria condola and the smaller ‘floodplain/billabong mussel’ Velesunio ambiguus. As sedentary, long-lived organisms, obtaining an understanding of the habitat requirements of resident freshwater mussels will provide insights into the natural hydrology of Australia’s inland rivers, and the potential role healthy populations of freshwater mussels could play in influencing water quality through biofiltration. This project was conceived in response to the extensive drought in the northern Murray-Darling Basin between 2017 and early 2020 and the reports of extensive mussel mortality. The specific aims were to review existing knowledge and identify knowledge gaps in relation to environmental water requirements, life history, physiological tolerances and habitat requirements and cultural significance of freshwater mussels in the Murray-Darling Basin, improve baseline understanding of distribution and structure of freshwater mussels in the Northern Basin and make recommendations for land and water management to protect freshwater mussel populations. This was achieved through a predictive analysis of mussel distribution, and analysis of the hydrological conditions during the drying event and a field survey to establish the extent of mussel mortality at sites across the northern Murray-Darling Basin……….

……… The combination of rapid and quantitative surveys used in this study suggest that the loss of mussel populations across the northern Murray-Darling Basin resulting from the drying conditions of 2017- 2019 is significant and widespread. This is a cause for concern given the longevity of mussel individuals and the poor evidence of widespread recent recruitment. Based on our analyses we make the following five (5) broad recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: that further research needs to be undertaken to understand the biology of freshwater mussels in the northern Murray-Darling Basin, including their reproduction, recruitment, growth patterns and diets, as well as their role in the ecosystem of the northern Murray-Darling Basin Rivers – not least because, besides fish, they were historically the dominant animal by weight in these rivers.
  • Recommendation 2: that a focus be made on monitoring freshwater mussel recovery in both the short- and long-term. This should include an understanding of which fish species act as hosts and what conditions are required for successful recruitment and establishment of juveniles.
  • Recommendation 3: that the importance of low flows and refugial habitats, reaches and waterholes, be formally recognised for freshwater mussels in the northern Murray-Darling Basin and the flow requirements of freshwater mussels be incorporated into flow management plans.
  • Recommendation 4: that the role of refugial reaches and waterholes in the landscape persistence of mussels and fish be recognised and the flow required to maintain the integrity of these physical places in the channel network be understood and incorporated into flow management plans. This would require a basin- wide perspective of the Water Sharing Plans and Water Resource Plans to ensure the critical area of the Barwon-Darling River has adequate flows for long-term population survival.
  • Recommendation 5: that a specific Freshwater Mussel Recovery Plan be developed in consultation with the communities of the northern Murray-Darling Basin and this plan articulate with Fish Recovery Plans.

Proposed re-regulating dam set to destroy the best Murray Cod breeding spots in the Macquarie-Wambuul River

Media Release – Thursday 18th November 2021

The most important breeding sites for threatened Murray Cod in the Wambuul-Macquarie River have been identified in a report[1] released by the Commonwealth Government on Thursday, and they are right where the NSW Government plans to build an enormous new dam. 

All four of the monitoring sights near Gin Gin used for the study would be destroyed by the proposed Macquarie River re-regulating storage project, known locally as the Gin Gin dam.  

“This zone has previously been identified as a strong-hold for Murray cod recruitment within the Macquarie River” wrote the report’s author Jerom Stocks.

The report shows that water for the environment was used during Spring 2020 to provide stable flows to support Murray Cod nesting during the peak breeding period, and that water management by environmental water holders and community stakeholders was successful. [2]

However all the efforts and success of water for the environment would be for nothing should the NSW Governments plans to construct a new dam at Gin Gin go ahead.

“Murray Cod are listed as threatened, and are supposed to be protected by the Commonwealth Government. How can the NSW Government even consider building a destructive dam directly over their best breeding areas?” Said Mel Gray, Convenor of Healthy Rivers Dubbo. 

The Wambuul Macquarie River is a well know destination for recreational anglers chasing the iconic Murray Cod.

“Tourism is absolutely huge for the economy of this region, and any major infrastructure project that has a detrimental impact on tourism has the potential to be a disaster for our region.” said Councillor Stephen Lawrence, Mayor of Dubbo Region.

“To build a dam in the Mid-Macquarie River would be detrimantal to the breeding cycle and improvement of not only the Murray Cod, but Eeltail Catfish, Yellow Belly, Spangled Perch, Platypus, Turtles and everything.” Said Wayne Gilbert, President of the Inland Waterways Rejuvenation Association.

Media Contact

Mel Gray – Convenor Healthy Rivers Dubbo

0431471310


[1] https://www.awe.gov.au/water/cewo/publications/monitoring-murray-cod-spawning-recruitment-response-spring-2020-macquarie-river-environmental-water-flows

[2] https://www.awe.gov.au/water/cewo/making-a-difference/murray-cod-making-splash-macquarie

Support the Gin Gin dam campaign here!

Don’t damn the Macquarie – No Gin Gin dam!

Support our work here

We are a group of people living in the Dubbo and Barwon electorates whose future relies on the long term sustainability of the Macquarie-Wambuul River and its connectivity with the Barwon Darling/Baaka River.

For many Nations including the Wiradjuri, Wongaibon and Wayilwan, the River and the Marshes are a lifeblood.

The Macquarie Marshes are internationally recognised wetlands of significance, a nesting site for thousands of migratory birds. Water from the Macquarie Valley provides vital connectivity to the Darling/Baaka, on average a 21% contribution.

But right now, the government in NSW is planning a disastrous dam at on the Macquarie at Gin Gin, downstream of Dubbo that would allow even more water to be sucked out of the river. There are already too many straws in the glass, as the mass fish kills in the Darling/Baaka and the Macquarie/Wambuul have shown. Instead of fixing the problem, the government seem to be making it worse!

Support our work here

This is your chance to partner with us! Together we can stop this project, which in time promises to terminate the river upstream of Warren, and leave the river bed and marshes dry.

The impact of this project on downstream communities and the environment would be catastrophic.

For this message to reach far and wide, we need to raise $4,000 for advertising in the newspapers, radio and other media in our region.

We have already succeeded in uniting the community to widespread objection to this disastrous dam and slow down the planning process.

With your help, we can once and for all send a message to politicians that we will not have our rivers turned into irrigation channels!

If you can’t donate, then please consider writing an email to your local NSW Member of Parliament, or to your local newspaper objecting to the disastrous river and marsh destroying Gin Gin dam.

Please share our campaign – THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

Floodplain Harvesting Inquiry

Submission

Select Committee on Floodplain Harvesting

HRD is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Select Committee on Floodplain Harvesting (the inquiry). We wish to express our gratitude to all Representatives who were involved in the two disallowance motions of the Floodplain Harvesting (FPH) Policy regulations in the Upper House, and the establishment of this inquiry.

HRD considers that FPH is an unlawful practice, and that Governments, Authorities and Agencies have turned a blind eye to the practice.

There are no legal levers between FPH policy and the water sharing priorities under the WMA (ss. 5(3) and 9(1)), which include water for ecosystem health and basic landholder rights (stock and domestic; native title rights).

The NSW Water Minister received internal legal advice that stated that on the balance of probabilities, taking water without an access licence is most likely unlawful. Building on-farm storages to house that illegally obtained water without the appropriate approvals would also be unlawful. This advice was withheld from the public until the Minister was urged in Parliament to release it.[1]

The irrigation industry has grown large and politically powerful in recent decades and in HRD’s view has too much influence on water policy at every level. The extent of this wealth and power has come from the illegal take of water.

In many parts of the world through history and to the present day the textile industry has used slavery to grow large and powerful. Only the erosion of social licence through community advocacy can bring about justice for the Environment, First Nations Peoples and the wider community.

HRD will argue in section 1 that: 


  • Volumes of FPH to be licenced must be brought under the Cap, and that the Cap should not stretch to accommodate FPH volumes. In the Macquarie Valley that means zero FPH.
  • The NSW Government is accommodating the irrigation industries arbitrary claim that environmental water in the Macquarie is ‘over recovered’. A claim HRD rejects outright and presents evidence to show that ‘over recovery’ is not a thing.
  • The draft Floodplain Management Plan 2018 must include clear process to ensure all illegal floodplain works are removed. The Floodplain Management Plan 2018 for the Macquarie is still not gazetted, which must happen ASAP.

READ THE FULL SUBMISSION HERE

[1] https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2021-05-26/illegal-floodplain-harvesting-government-legal-advice-uncertain/100164210

Media Release – Govt Inquiry highlights worry over Gin Gin dam

Media Release

Wednesday 28th July 2021

Government Inquiry highlights worry over Gin Gin dam impacts

A parliamentary committee report looking at the controversial proposal to build a large ‘re-regulating’ dam in the Macquarie Rivers at Gin Gin was released today. The committee says they have ‘significant concerns about the potential negative ecological impacts’ of the proposal.

Community concern that WaterNSW won’t keep their hands off tributary inflows from below Burrendong dam is shared by the committee. The report says the lack of clarity regarding the use of tributary flows for water orders and how this will change as a result of the project is concerning.

“When this project was looked at as part of the Macquarie Priority Catchment Study, the plan was to take water from all sources. Now they say they won’t catch tributary inflows, but the economics of that doesn’t stack up. ” says Mel Gray, Convenor of Healthy Rivers Dubbo.

The committee heard that the best way to secure water for people and the environment is to improve the way water is managed in NSW.

The project poses a significant threat to remaining native fish populations in the Macquarie River. “The weir pool created by this dam proposal would destroy 32 km of habitat in and along the river. Population of threatened Murray Cod can’t bounce back after drought without habitat.” Said Ms Gray.

The report featured a warning from Professor Richard Kingsford that Australia is failing to meet its international obligations to protect Ramsar listed wetlands. Many waterbird communities are long-term decline as a result of historic water allocations and decreased river flows into major wetlands.

“There is certainly no environmental benefit of building that [Gin Gin] weir and there is a lot of risk in terms of downstream impacts, not just to the environment – the river – but also to the rural communities downstream.” Professor Kingsford was quoted as saying in the report.

Media Contact

Mel Gray

Convenor Healthy Rivers Dubbo

0431471310

Report No 8 PC7 Rationale for, and impacts of, new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW – Part 2

Healthy Rivers Dubbo Public Meeting – June 2021

The Healthy Rivers Dubbo Alliance facilitated a public meeting about the proposed Gin Gin dam project on the Macquarie-Wambuul River.

Watch:

Introduction (Mel Gray, facilitator) start to 7.30

Tony Lees (Trangie) 7.30 to 12.55

Professor Richard Kingsford (UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science) 13.18 to 36.14

Garry Hall (Private Ramsar Wetland Manager) 36.30 to 49.20

Bev Smiles (President Inland Rivers Network) 49.40 to 106.35

Question and Answer session 107 to end

Dubbo Photo News 1/7/2021

The Daily Liberal 26/6/2021 Healthy Rivers Dubbo hosts Gin Gin Dam public meeting

Media coverage of Public Meeting about Gin Gin dam proposal

Listen to an interview on ABC Western Plains about the Gin Gin dam proposal and the Public Meeting listen from 5.43.

Read an article from the Dubbo Photo News 17/6/21 about the Public Meeting

Read an article from Dubbo’s Daily Liberal 14/6/21 about the Public Meeting


Media Release 11th June 2021

Professor Richard Kingsford will join an impressive line-up of speakers at a public meeting about the proposed Gin Gin re-regulating dam on the Macquarie River.The public meeting is to be held on Wednesday the 23rd June from 6.30pm at the Pastoral Hotel in Talbragar Street Dubbo.

Professor Kingsford’s expertise covers river ecology, water use in Australia, wetland ecology, waterbirds, river policy, and dam building effect.

Also speaking at the event will be:

  • Tony Lees from Trangie
  • Garry Hall, a private Ramsar Wetland Manager
  • and Beverley Smiles, President of the Inland Rivers Network

The controversial Gin Gin dam proposal drew sharp criticism from the NSW Government last year when the Deputy Secretary of Water said the plans “do not currently demonstrate value for money and an efficient, effective and prudent use of public funds.”[1]

The proposal is expected to reduce water downstream for unregulated irrigation, and have a serious impact on populations of native fish.

“The Gin Gin dam would be a massive $84 million subsidy to the irrigated cotton industry. Downstream irrigators, graziers and businesses that cater to recreational fishing in the valley would all take a huge financial hit.

“There have been increasing calls for Dugald Saunders MP and the NSW Nationals to release the business case to the public once it is complete. What are they trying to hide?” Asks Mel Gray, Convenor of Healthy Rivers Dubbo.

The public are encouraged to come along to the Pastoral Hotel with their questions about the impacts the proposal would have on the river, the marshes and all of the people and wildlife that rely on them.

For details about the event contact Mel Gray 0431 471 310, or email healthyriversdubbo@gmail.com

Media Contact: Melissa Gray Convenor, Healthy Rivers Dubbo, 0431 471 310


[1] https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IGlRQI2C38xRXyPMJfzPgAN5Z_Y9OGZJ/view?usp=sharing

Professor Richard Kingsford to speak in Dubbo

The proposed Gin Gin dam plans were slammed last year by the NSW Government as they “do not currently demonstrate value for money and an efficient, effective and prudent use of public funds.”

The proposal does not stack up economically, socially or ecologically.

Come along to the Pastoral Hotel on Wednesday 23rd June and hear from:

  • Professor Richard Kingsford, Wetland Ecologist
  • Tony Lees, Trangie Aboriginal Land Council
  • Beverley Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network
  • and Garry Hall, Private Ramsar Wetland Manager

Wednesday 23rd June, 6.30pm at the Pastoral Hotel, Talbragar Street Dubbo.

Facebook Event

Media Release