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More questions raised about river re-regulating storage project – Inland Rivers Network

Firstly, the explanation about capturing water that currently flows to the end of the system is of great concern. The end of the Macquarie River connects up with the Darling River system.

Any flows that reach the Darling are very important for providing native fish passage up into the Macquarie and for providing important downstream water.

Rainfall rejections generally happen when the system is wetted up and lots of natural triggers have been set off for fish, water birds, frogs, water plants and the many other species that have rainfall responses.

The retention of these flows in the proposed new storage will impact on the health of the downstream environment all the way to the Darling and beyond. We do not understand why the term storage is different to a dam.

Secondly, the environmental water allowances held in Burrendong Dam are not the only water that is important to river health. Flows that occur naturally, with rainfall, including from tributaries that enter the Macquarie downstream of Burrendong have more nutrients, oxygen and no cold water pollution. They are much healthier for the river system and for fish.

WaterNSW CEO David Harris has failed to inform the public about the full range of river operations. This includes meeting water orders from tributary inflows, rather than releasing the orders from Burrendong. This water is likely to be stored in the proposed new structure, thus contradicting the information that the weir will not stop tributary flows.

The environmental impacts of this new large instream structure on the Macquarie River are not likely to be mitigated or offset. The river system including the internationally significant Macquarie Marshes will suffer the consequences.

The Inland Rivers Network (“IRN”) is a coalition of environment groups and individuals that has been advocating for healthy rivers, wetlands and groundwater in the Murray-Darling Basin since 1991.

 

Ann Reeves

Hon Secretary

Inland Rivers Network

 

 

 

 

 

How can we trust WaterNSW?

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.

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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.

202003 WaterNSW Pie Graph -1Truth Pie

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?

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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.

Time to Choose.

The Macquarie River is overworked and over allocated – too much water is extracted.

When Burrendong dam was built in 1967, the yield of the Macquarie River was assessed as 406 billion litres. But, water access licences totalling around 900 billion litres have been issued! That means users often receive only a percentage of the volume of their water access licence. There are simply too many straws in the glass.

The Infrastructure NSW | 2014 State Infrastructure Strategy Update (page 89) from the NSW government explains that the irrigation industry has grown too big for the natural capacity of the valley.

As our Government and water agencies blame the river itself for not being able to meet all of the needs that have been placed on it by a procession of Governments, agencies and industries, it is time for us to make a choice.

Do we want our river to become increasingly mechanised, only able to service corporate irrigation requirements?

Or do we want to maintain the rivers’ wild nature, allowing it to do what it does – support wildlife, fish, birds, downstream communities and sustainable irrigation farms ….. time to choose.

Image: Tareelaroi Weir Gwydir River

Aboriginal heritage sites to be sacrificed as plans to mechanise the Macquarie progress

 “Our rivers are our highways and song lines, not only for humans but for fish”.

Aunty Coral Peckham says, while the proposed new re regulating weir at Gin Gin is in the Country of neighbouring Clan the Wongaibon, she has grave concerns about where the water is going, grave concerns for neighbours and the river itself.

“We’re concerned about our sites, and our aquatic animals and our native veg. They all need water.

Our aims and objectives are to look after Country for future generations.”

Regarding the proposed re regulating weir, or irrigator’s weir, at Gin Gin on the Wambuul, WaterNSW have limited Aboriginal consultation to Land Councils.

“Consultation has been cursory at best, this is more than a cultural heritage matter, but also a matter of First Nations engagement and participation.” Lamented Aunty Coral.

WaterNSW has identified a registered Aboriginal site 20km upstream from the proposed re regulating weir at Gin Gin. It would be inundated by the weir pool should the project go ahead.

This is what their report has to say: “The nature of the recorded sites suggest that similar sites are likely to exist at other locations along the River and across the landscape.”

Our cultural heritage is being sacrificed by the NSW Government, as plans for a destructive irrigators dam on the Wambuul at Gin Gin continue.

IMAG3600 Terramungamine_includes river

Terramungamine Rock Grooves

‘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