The Murray Cod With Dry Backs!
Releases of environmental water are designed carefully, so that natural conditions can be replicated to facilitate the desired outcomes. When Cod are on the nest, they need steady water heights. It’s important that when they find a nest site they like, the Cod feel safe and have a good experience while on the nest, they tend to return to the same nest site if they feel safe. Environmental water releases are designed with a ‘stable Cod flow’ portion from mid September to mid November. Then a little peak to disperse the eggs.
During the ‘stable Cod flow’ it’s very important that the daily flow rate for Held and Planned environmental water be complied with.
During the 2019 water year, WaterNSW used rainfall predictions in the valley to reduce the daily flow rate, expecting catchment rainfall would meet the target flow rate at the end of the system (Marebone). The rain did not come, and there were a few significant ‘holes’ in the event.
By failing to comply with the daily flow rate, WaterNSW showed that their priorities were not in line with environmental outcomes. They seemed to overlook the importance of the ‘stable cod flow’ phase of the event, and the consequences to Cod sitting on the nest with their backs out of the water.
The Missing Fishways!
In 2011, Burrendong wall was upgraded for safety reasons, and while they were at it, another 1.8 meters was added to the height. Any time a structure in a river is modified, an environmental offset must be delivered. So, back in 2011, WaterNSW was legally obliged to construct three fishways in the Wambuul Macquarie River – at Gin Gin weir, Gunningbah offtake and Marebone break.
Nearly ten years later, and native fish in the Macquarie River are still banging their heads against a wall. In 2014, then NSW water minister Katrina Hodgkinson put the projects on hold, citing the costs as the reason. After some pressure from the community in late 2019, a promise has been made by WaterNSW to submit the fishways to IPART for funding in the 2022-2025 period – we’ll believe it when we see it.
WaterNSW have proved they are not motivated by an interest in improving fish passage in the Macquarie River. They are obliged to include a fish passage structure in the design of the re regulating weir that is being planned for Gin Gin, however if they cared about native fish in the Macquarie, they would have met their legal and moral obligation and built one at the site nearly a decade ago.
The Orange Pipeline Promises!
More broken promises, this time upstream of Burrendong where the Macquarie River to Orange pipeline was built. The agreement was that if the river fell below 108 megalitres a day flow, the pumps would be stopped. Jump forward to 2019 and the rules have been changed, promises broken. Going against the agreements made, pumping is now allowed when flows in the Macquarie are as low as 38 megalitres a day, when the river is all but a series of pools.
Once it’s built, anything goes!
It is startling to learn that while projects might require environmental assessment to get approval once they are built, the rules can be changed with no need for any environmental assessment of the impact of the new conditions.
If the proposed re regulating weir at Gin Gin is approved and built, WaterNSW have proven they cannot be trusted to keep any promises that they make to get the project approved.
Which Pie Graph is Baked?
A lack of transparency in water management was one of the central findings of the scathing Ken Matthews Report 2017, instigated by the NSW Government following the startling revelations of Four Corners episode ‘Pumped’ in July of that year. WaterNSW reports are notoriously difficult to interpret, and far from transparent.
In early 2020, WaterNSW presented a pie graph titled ‘Where the water went’ to the public during a drought update seminar. The generalised labels don’t clearly explain that this graph refers to natural flows as well as dam releases, and it captures a time in 2016 when there was a lot of water around.
This graph also fails to explain that vast, unmetered, volumes of water was diverted by way of floodplain harvesting infrastructure into private and corporate on-farm dams for free. WaterNSW still stubbornly withhold what volumes of water have been withheld from the river by floodplain harvesting from the public.
The WaterNSW graph was so misleading, a concerned citizen interpreted from it that 78% of water released from Burrendong in the two years 2017-2019 was for the environment. The actual figures of water ordered and released from Burrendong are startlingly different, showing that only 26% was ordered by environmental water holders, 45% was released for irrigation, with the other 29% being used for operations, towns water supply, stock and domestic and high security in the regulated section of the Macquarie.
What’s in a Name?
We have heard from WaterNSW that they will not capture tributary flows with their enormous new re regulating weir. But wait! What is this on page 16 of their Scoping Report?
The tricky bit here is that WaterNSW consider some tributary inflows that enter the Macquarie below Burrendong as dam releases, even though they are not released from the dam.
What? How can that make sense? Flows from the Little, Bell, Talbragar, Coolbaggie and the like are not released from Burrendong dam, so how can WaterNSW consider them to be? They just do, it suits their purpose.
We’re not that gullible. WaterNSW cannot be trusted.