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‘Terrible’ new weir proposed for river as flows resume

Sydney Morning Herald

By Peter Hannam

A stoush is brewing on the state’s inland rivers over the proposal for a new weir that could reduce flows to the “degraded” Macquarie Marshes just as the wetlands start to recover from drought.

WaterNSW has begun consulting on a so-called re-regulating storage for the Macquarie River between Narromine and Warren in north-western NSW. The weir could store at least six billion litres and create a pool 30-60 kilometres long, potentially inundating river red gums and other ecosystems.

Ecologists, recreational fishers and some farmers worry that adding another dam to river flow would impede the recovery of endangered fish species already hard hit by the long dry spell over most of the region. Similar public works, proposed at the height of the drought, will move closer to construction in the months to come.

“It is another barrier in a system with many barriers to native fish and sediment and nutrient transport,” Richard Kingsford, director of the University of NSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science, said.

“The Macquarie has one of the poorest populations of native fish in the Murray-Darling Basin, including the loss of some species.”

The dam would mean more reliable water for some irrigators but at the expense of water to the Macquarie Marshes, “one of the three most degraded Ramsar sites in the Murray-Darling Basin”.

A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated to be of international importance under a UNESCO treaty from the 1970s.

Matt Hansen, president of Inland Waterways, said another fish barrier would be “terrible for the river”, adding that “we have had catastrophic fish kills in so many different rivers” during the drought.

The weir on that part of the river, at Gin Gin, was already “one of the worst barriers to fish and an absolute crime”, Mr Hansen said.

WaterNSW said the project would involve the “consideration” of the future of the Gin Gin weir, including an investigation of whether it should partially or fully decommissioned.

A spokesman for WaterNSW said any new “gated weir and fishway structure” on the river would need the development of a detailed business case, which is due for completion by August, and then an environmental impact study by the year’s end.

“The re-regulating structure will enhance the overall efficiency of river operations by reducing transmission losses,” the agency said.

Garry Hall, a grazier whose property includes part of the Macquarie Marshes, said “a few small flows” had made it to the wetlands.

Mr Hall said he was keen to take part in another round of stakeholder meetings planned for later this month. He was concerned, though, with the weir’s structure and “opportunities for protocols that could undermine” whatever pledges the government made to secure its approval.

Professor Kingsford said the planned weir would struggle to meet approval under the federal government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act.

“I would be surprised if it would get the approval given the state of the Macquarie Marshes,” he said, adding the longer term effect would be felt the next time conditions dried up again.

“These projects will certainly make the droughts worse for our environmental assets such as the Macquarie Marshes and also downstream graziers.”


‘Terrible’ new weir proposed for river as flows resume

Floodplain Harvesting Flow Targets we’d like to see

In July 2022, then NSW Environment Minister Griffin gave concurrence to changes to three NSW Water Sharing Plans in the Gwydir, Border Rivers and Macquarie-Wambuul Catchments that included rules on how floodplain harvesting would be managed.

When rivers levels dipped below certain heights at specific gauges, floodplain harvesting of water has to stop. These measurements are called flow targets.

Minister Griffin’s own department, the Environment and Heritage Group advised the Minister not to sign off on the water sharing plans, as the targets proposed by Nationals Water Minister Kevin Anderson are so low, they are not consistent with the objectives of the Water Management Act that requires critical human needs and the environment to be prioritised over irrigation.

Despite writing to Minister Anderson to say he would not be signing off on the Plans with the extremely poor targets, Minister Griffin did succumb to the pressure from the Nationals and signed them off.

The Environment and Heritage Group developed a set of preferred flow targets for these water sharing plans. These documents were obtained through a Parliamentary Order for Papers. Here they are.

Have your say on the future of the Belubula River

The Belubula River starts between Bathurst and Blayney, and eventually flows into the Lachlan River. The source of this river could soon be buried under 50m of toxic slurry from a proposed gold mine.

Regis Resources has applied to build a new open-cut gold mine on Kings Plain near Blayney. The mining pit would be 1km wide and 450m deep. A tailings dam wall 1.5km long and 50m tall would hold back a slurry of waste containing cyanide, mercury, lead, molybdenum and many more heavy metals – the tailings from extracting gold from the ore.

Watch a video about this destructive proposal

Submissions to the Independent Planning Commission process are open until December 21st and you can help be downloading this simple submission guide, written by the Belubula Headwaters Protection Group, and having your say.

When the drought returns

With all the flooding around, it’s easy to forget that droughts will be back.

The last drought in the Wambuul-Macquarie was shocking.

Burrendong dam emptied quickly between 2017 and 2019, and soon after, fish and turtles were being rescued from drying green pools of water downstream of Warren.

As the dam approached 0%, plans were made to rescue platypus in anticipation of the river stopping at Burrendong, and Dubbo faced day zero.

But have we learnt our lesson?

No. The allocation settings for Burrendong have not changed. Burrendong dam will be emptied every two years, regardless of the climactic outlook.

The government could chose to consider the droughts that have happened since 2004 when determining water allocations – but they don’t. Here’s what they say:

“After the Millennium Drought, NSW opted not to take a more conservative approach to its water allocations to improve water security for critical needs in the event of a future severe drought. Rather, in the event of the next drought, it was preferred to use other emergency drought mitigation measures to support communities. These include carting water for some domestic uses and restricting access to carryover water in general security licence accounts to meet higher priority needs.

In the wake of the recent drought, there are again calls to reduce water allocations to mitigate the impact of future droughts—that is, to be more conservative in how much water is allocated over a particular period to keep more water in reserve. However, this could potentially have a cost to productivity across non-drought years.” NSW Water Strategy page 88.

The government would rather let the river run dry than reduce water used for irrigation.

Read Healthy Rivers Dubbo’s submission to the second draft Macquarie-Castlereagh Regional Water Strategy.

Macquarie-Castlereagh Regional Water Strategy

Right now, the NSW government is asking for your feedback on how water is managed in the Wambuul-Macquarie and Castlereagh catchments.

Remember how severe the 2017-2020 drought was? It shook our region.

Write a short submission

The best available science tells us the chance of droughts that severe happening again have jumped from one in a thousand years, to as high as one in thirty years.

The river was cut off downstream of Warren town. Insurance populations of native fish, mussels and turtles had to be rescued from drying green pools. The Ramsar listed Macquarie Marshes caught on fire.

Plans were put in place to house rescued platypus, should the dam and downstream river run completely dry.

As Burrendong dam approached 0%, towns like Nyngan and Dubbo came within months of potentially running out of water.

The scramble to find more groundwater that wasn’t contaminated with dangerous PFAFs highlighted how susceptible to water mis-management our communities are.  

Write a short submission

Macquarie Cudgegong Environmental Water Advisory Group

The Macquarie Cudgegong Environmental Water Advisory Group (or the Environmental Flows Reference Group – EFRG) is made up of representatives from a range of local interest groups, who provide advice on planning, management and monitoring of water for the environment in the mid and lower Macquarie valley.

NSW Nature Conservation Council has been represented on the Macquarie Cudgegong Environmental Water Advisory Group since it’s inception in 2000.

Meeting summaries:

Media Release: Chance to fix broken water rules in the Wambuul-Macquarie

13 October 2022

The second draft of the Macquarie-Castlereagh Regional Water Strategy is on public exhibition until November 1st.

Two webinars are being held Monday 17th, and Monday 24th. To register, go to the website.

Regional Water Strategies for the state were triggered by the severe 2017-2020 drought, which saw flows in the Wambuul-Macquarie River cut off at Warren, native fish rescued from shrinking green pools, and communities like Nyngan and Dubbo months off ‘day zero’.

The strategy includes climate change predictions that suggest the chances of another severe drought happening again could rise from a one in a thousand year event, to a one in thirty year event by 2070.

Inflows into Burrendong dam could halve in the next 50 years.

Mel Gray, Convenor of Healthy Rivers Dubbo said:

“It’s obvious a lot of work has gone into this strategy over a long time. There are a lot of great innovative ideas, but some worrying ones as well”

“It is irresponsible to keep managing water releases from Burrendong dam based on rainfall data from before 2003. Ignoring the recent unprecedented, severe drought, and allocating water as if it never happened is bordering on negligent.”

“Common sense dictates that enough water should be kept in Burrendong Dam to make sure Dubbo and other communities have enough water to survive more frequent and severe droughts. Town water security is the reason that tax payer money paid for that dam in the first place.”

“The only purpose the controversial Gin Gin re-regulating dam project would serve is to allow even more water to be taken from the river. The significant damage the dam would cause to native fish habitat and the Ramsar Macquarie Marshes is well documented. It’s time to scrap the Gin Gin dam dud of a project.”

“Reducing the size of the flood mitigation zone of Burrendong dam would put Dubbo at a higher risk of being flooded. After the events of this week, it’s ludicrous that this option is even mentioned in the strategy.”

Media Contact

Mel Gray – Convenor, Healthy Rivers Dubbo 0431 471 310

River Community snubbed

Representatives of 22 groups from inland NSW wrote to the Premier in July, raising serious concerns with the government’s floodplain harvesting regulations.

Both the Premier and the NSW Water Minister have refused to meet with community members.

This group is a true representation of the communities who will feel the brunt of the floodplain harvesting policy. The group includes Traditional Owners, floodplain graziers, recreational fishers and tourism operators, as well as concerned regional residents.

Daily Liberal, 4 Oct 22 Healthy Rivers Dubbo’s Mel Gray among 22 representatives calling out Water Minister Kevin Anderson’s ‘controversial’ laws


Concerns of numerous groups have been ignored after they sent an open letter condemning the NSW Water Minister Kevin Anderson’s floodplain harvesting regulations in water systems including the Wambuul Macquarie river.

The regulations are so divisive that they were disallowed in the NSW Upper House for the fourth time last week, in a vote of 16 for and 15 against.

Picnic for Nature🌳 – Strategy coming – AGM

Come join us for our first Picnic for Nature

NSW nature Conservation Council has a bold plan. Communities across NSW will come together to host and hold picnics to celebrate nature.

In Dubbo we are holding it by the beautiful Wambuul Macquarie River where we can sit amongst the ancient 500 year old red gums and celebrate the life of the river. There will be live music, cultural dancing, jumping castle, and a river walk and talk. Bring your friends and family, rugs and chairs, your lunch, and a plate to share if you like.

Date: Sunday 16 October 2022 Time: 11am to 1pm at Regand Park – Facebook event

Environmentally friendly event: Bring your own non-plastic non-disposal cutlery, plates and cups for your chance to win some great prizes!

Please RSVP:
You must RSVP to get your free icecream voucher 🍦😋

Coming soon – Second draft Regional Water Strategy

Consultations for the next draft of the Macquarie-Castlereagh Regional Water Strategy will be happening this month. The draft strategy will be published on Tuesday 4th October.

Is the Wambuul Macquarie River more than just an irrigation channel?

Look out soon for an email from Healthy Rivers Dubbo, making it easy to have your say.

Consultation dates: 
Tuesday, 11 October
10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Dubbo RSL Cnr Brisbane Street & Wingewarra Street


Webinar – Tuesday, 24 October 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm – register for webinar

Healthy Rivers Dubbo – AGM

Wednesday 19th October at 6pm.
email to get the zoom link

Healthy Rivers Dubbo is a grass roots community network dedicated to providing a strong voice for our local rivers, aquifers and wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin for the benefit of wildlife, plants and people. We pay our respects to Traditional Owners past and present and acknowledge that this land was never ceded.

Our Vision for Dubbo’s Floodplain

Right now, there are discussions being had about the future of Dubbo’s riverside land. While the vast majority of people that we’ve spoken to want the land to remain open public parkland, there is a private rugby club who have declared their intentions to construct a sprawling precinct over the public space.

This is our vision for this precious piece of remaining river-side country..

There should be no new sporting fields to be included in the river corridor. This area needs to be kept for public parkland, and for environmental restoration. River flood plains are sensitive environments and introducing more sports fields and associated infrastructure will have further impacts on the corridor and on the river. 

The north and south precincts need to have as little infrastructure as possible but still allow public access and enjoyment. A sculpture park, children’s playground, small number of toilets, a small amphitheater would be examples of acceptable ‘infrastructure’. Pathways should be natural, i.e. dirt, woodchips or crushed granite. Universal access could be provided but only extend into part of the site but it would not be appropriate to have hard surfaces criss-crossing the whole of the precincts. In this regard vehicle access must be kept to a minimal and therefore no car parking areas be provided. Consideration could be made for dirt or crushed granite access roads (for staff) with a small number of inline parking adjoining the access track.

A mixture of forest, open woodland and some wild meadows could be envisaged. An arboretum style landscape with endemic species and a small amount of information plaques be provided.

Small wetland area with adjoining bird hide.

Sporting groups can be accommodated at Council’s many open spaces dotted throughout the established parts of the city or in the new subdivisions that are soon to be developed. There is a development application currently in at Council for the $22 million Dubbo Sports Hub which will have 4 football fields. That would be more than sufficient area for the football teams. Further areas could be adjoining Bunglegumbie Road or Sheraton Road. A developer in town proposed a football complex on Sheraton Road 10 years ago, with no further pursuit of that idea heard since, let’s reinvigorate it.

Introducing football fields in the river corridor will upset a large proportion of Dubbo’s population. Not introducing football fields in the river corridor but locating them elsewhere will not be to the football clubs’ detriment. It would be actually be a positive outcome for them to be located next to already established schools (i.e. the Dubbo Sports Hub adjoins Dubbo College and the CSU campus) or if located on Sheraton Road would be near the schools in that part of town. This would mean schools would have easy access to the fields or children could go straight from school to football training saving car pick-up and drop-off. 

Regand Park has had a brilliant master plan previously prepared by Moir Landscape Architects in 2013. With a few modifications (i.e. no longer needing a velodrome and having less infrastructure than shown on the earlier plan) the parkland would be a credit to Dubbo and be a drawcard for visitors and residents alike. 

New sporting fields need to be preceded by up-to-date strategic documents, master plans, needs assessments, etc. Why would ratepayers want to pay for facilities that may or may not be required? The cart should not go before the horse. If fields are required, the need for such has to be assessed properly and a plan provided. Consideration then needs to be made of Council’s current public open space areas and decisions made on what is to be provided.

Areas such as the north and south precinct for public parkland and environmental restoration are vital for people’s well being. The areas need to be sufficiently large enough to feel ‘immersed’ in nature. Taking chunks out of these areas will diminish their appeal and usefulness for biodiversity. Football fields and environmental restoration living side by side in the river corridor will be detrimental to the environment with disturbance to both flora and fauna.

Let’s create something wonderful, fun, playful, beautiful, silly, magnificent, creative, crazy, calming, wild, naughty, powerful, silent, honoring, reverential, uplifting and lets do it together!!

Image: Save Dubbo’s Greenspace!

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.