Showing posts with label water wars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label water wars. Show all posts

Friday, 11 August 2017

Water rorting continues in the Murray-Darling Basin aided and abetted by the NSW Nationals


And local government and commercial interests in the Murray-Darling Basin have the hide to cry that they are water deprived and should be allowed to dam and divert water from the Clarence River catchment until that coastal system is a pale shadow of its vibrant self.

The Guardian, 4 August 2017:

The New South Wales regional water minister, Niall Blair, has quietly granted himself the power to approve illegal floodplain works retrospectively.

A Wentworth Group scientist, Jamie Pittock, has accused the NSW government of actively undermining the Murray-Darling basin plan as revelations have continued about the state government’s management of the river system.

Since Four Corners report raised allegations of water theft and secret meetings between a senior NSW water bureaucrat and a small number of irrigators,Blair is under increasing pressure over his water responsibilities.

This followed Daily Telegraph reports that the Nationals MP had been urging his Liberal colleague, the environment minister, Gabrielle Upton, to change the Barwon-Darling water-sharing plan retrospectively to favour large irrigators. He said the change was needed because of an error in the rules.

It has now come to light that Blair gazetted a Barwon-Darling valley floodplain management plan which gives him power to approve flood works built illegally even if they do not comply with requirements prior to the plan.

Under clause 39 of the new Barwon-Darling valley plan, a flood work that does not comply can be approved if “in the minister’s opinion” it is for an access road, a supply channel, a stock refuge or an infrastructure protection work
.
A spokesman for WaterNSW said three relevant applications from the Barwon-Darling region had been received since the change but none had yet been approved.

The NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham called on the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to remove the water portfolio from the National party after the regulation changes came to light.

“This is disgraceful example of the National party giving away free water to their big irrigator mates,” Buckingham said. “Many of these areas are so flat that even a 10 to 20cm bank can divert a huge amount of water into an irrigation dam and away from natural waterways.

“It’s a massive gift of water to the big irrigators. If we want to recover the water in the future then taxpayer will have to hand over huge amounts of compensation for what were illegal constructions.”

A spokeswoman for Blair said the gazettal was a “significant legacy issue” required to create a process where unapproved works could be properly and transparently assessed. She said to be considered, works must not have been previously refused and would still need to be assessed under certain criteria.

“Supply channels are one of the types of existing works that clause 39 indicates that we will accept application for,” the spokeswoman said. “Just because they are existing, doesn’t mean that they will be approved, just that they can apply. This approach is being rolled out through all floodplain management plans.”

Pittock, an associate professor in the Fenner school of environment and society at the Australian National University, said the revelations showed NSW was systematically white-anting the Murray Darling plan.

“The ‘rule error’ and other questionable dealings between wealthy irrigators, government officials and politicians in NSW highlight how the intent of the basin plan can be frustrated by those hostile to its implementation at the state level,” he told Guardian Australia.

“Changes of regulations in NSW have allowed irrigators to take erstwhile environmental flows by allowing greater pump capacity and earlier extraction based on river heights such that commonwealth-purchased environmental water in Queensland in not ‘shepherded’ through New South Wales to the lower Murray.

“Consequently towns like Broken Hill, pastoralists and Aboriginal communities, as well as the environment, have been starved of water.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Politicians and Water: The Murray Darling Basin Scandal Fallout


The ABC Four Corners program “Pumped” which was screened on 24th July has illustrated how important scrutiny of the establishment is to the rule of law in our democracy. It also illustrates why the ABC is under threat from many politicians and other powerful players who see any effective scrutiny of their operations as an intolerable threat to their way of doing business, a way that is against both the general community interest as well as the national interest.
The outrage from the revelations of water theft and other illegality by big irrigators in the northern NSW area of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) has increased over the days since the program was screened.  Politicians have been left scrambling and forced to change tack following the strength of the reaction and the condemnation of the inadequacy of their initial responses.
In NSW the Nationals Minister for Primary Industry, Niall Blair, was forced to change from an internal inquiry conducted by his department to an independent inquiry.  Blair was excessively optimistic in thinking that such an internal inquiry would be acceptable given that Four Corners had revealed a questionable relationship between Gavin Hanlon[1], his department’s Deputy Director General (Water), and big irrigators in the upper MDB.  In addition there was the important question of why the department had failed to act on departmental compliance officers’ reports of licence breaches and meter tampering. And there were questions about the role of the former water minister Kevin Humphries in dealing with the large irrigators.
The NSW Opposition has also taken action referring both the former Nationals water minister Kevin Humphries (Member for Barwon) and a senior bureaucrat (presumably Gavin Hanlon) to ICAC.
The Federal Government reaction was initially almost dismissive.  The Minister for Water Resources, Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce[2], as well as attempting to downplay the water theft by comparing it to cattle rustling, claimed that it was a matter for NSW and that there was no need for Federal Government involvement. Billions of dollars of taxpayer funds have been used to buy back water for environmental flows and instead of being used for this purpose this water has gone to the big irrigators in the upper Barwon-Darling.  Presumably the taxpayer funds had come from the Federal Government. This would surely make it a matter of very great interest to this government which, seeing it is so concerned about budget repair, would surely be appalled at the waste of billions of taxpayer dollars.
Joyce’s totally inadequate initial response was compounded shortly afterwards with what he said in a speech to irrigators in a hotel at Shepparton, a speech which was recorded by one of those attending.
Joyce said, "We have taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we could look after you and make sure we don't have the greenies running the show basically sending you out the back door, and that was a hard ask.”
"A couple of nights ago on Four Corners, you know what that's all about? It's about them trying to take more water off you, trying to create a calamity. A calamity for which the solution is to take more water off you, shut more of your towns down."
Even a dinosaur like Barnaby Joyce should have been aware that anyone carrying a smartphone has the capacity to secretly record what others are saying.  In the political sphere we have seen how damaging this can be in the cases of Christopher Pyne and One Nation’s James Ashby. The Shepparton recording has certainly damaged Joyce and has added volume to the calls for him to be sacked from the Water portfolio.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen as the Prime Minister has enough problems in his own party without alienating Joyce and the Nationals.
By Sunday 30th the scandal became a matter that the Federal Government had to act upon despite Joyce’s earlier labelling it a state matter. The Federal solution was for the Murray Darling Basin Authority to carry out an independent basin-wide review into compliance with state-based regulations governing water use. The Authority is to report by 15th December 2017.  The Government saw this review as complementing the other investigations of the Four Corners allegations.
However, this is a case of far too little too late.  The MDB Authority is scarcely a body able to conduct an independent review of what has obviously been happening under its watch.  Furthermore a cynic would see the reporting date of 15th December, just before the Christmas holiday season, as a typical government move to ensure that the review report would receive minimal attention and be forgotten about over the holiday break.
The Federal Opposition, like its NSW state counterpart, has also taken action on the scandal.  It requested that the Auditor-General expand his current audit of the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.  The Auditor-General will now include how the federal department is monitoring the performance of NSW under the National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water Reform in the MDB relevant to the protection and use of environmental water.
Unsurprisingly, the South Australian Government, which has long been concerned about the lack of water reaching the end of the Murray-Darling system, was outraged by the allegations.  It is calling for a judicial inquiry, a much stronger investigation than those arranged by NSW and the Federal Government.  SA senators from Labor, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Party and the Conservatives have joined their state government in calling for a judicial inquiry.
This scandal has a long way to run yet.  There are major questions to be answered about the National Party – both state and federally - and its relationship with the big irrigators and its apparent indifference to the needs of other irrigators further down the system.  There is also the question of its influence on the workings of the NSW Department of Agriculture.   And just what role has it had in limiting the effectiveness of – perhaps even of sabotaging - the Murray Darling Basin Plan?
For both Federal and NSW state Liberal leaders there is the question about the advisability of having resource management portfolios in the hands of Nationals and of putting both Agriculture and Water in the same portfolio.  Each of these governments has a very poor environmental record.  What has been happening on the Barwon-Darling reinforces the view that keeping “in good” with the Nationals is far more important for the  Liberals than ensuring that environmental policies are in the best long-term interests of the state and nation.
[1] Gavin Hanlon joined the NSW Department of Primary Industries in December 2014.  Prior to this he had been Managing Director of Goulburn Murray Water since 2011.
[2] The water portfolio was removed from the Environment Department and allocated to Joyce as a result of the agreement with the Liberals in 2015  following  Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister.

Hildegard
Northern Rivers
2nd August 2017

Guest Speak is a North Coast Voices segment allowing serious or satirical comment from NSW Northern Rivers residents. Email northcoastvoices at gmail dot com dot au to submit comment for consideration.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Trouble With Water: not a good look for the National Party of Australia



On 1 June 2017 former NSW Minister for Natural Resources, Lands and Water (23 April 2014 - 2 April 2015) and current Nationals MP for Barwon, Kevin Humphries, announced that he will retire at the next state election in March 2019.

In the wake of the 24 July ABC “Four Corners” revelations of large-scale water theft under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Humphries has been referred to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) by the Labor Opposition.

Hot on the heels of this program came another announcement on 31 July 2017.

Former NSW Minister for Primary Industries (3 April 2011 - 2 April 2015) with responsibility for lands & water and current Nationals MP for Cootamundra, Katrina Hodgkinson, announced her retirement effective mid to late August 2017.

Hodgkinson denies any connection between her sudden retirement and those Four Corners revelations.

However it should be noted that it was on the joint watch of Humphries and Hodgkinson that the position of NSW Water Commissioner responsible for the overall management of the State’s surface water and groundwater resources was axed and the NSW Office of Water was reformed as part of the Dept. of Primary Industry maintaining overall responsibility for accepting and assessing applications to change water access licences and operating the Water Access Licence Register.

High volume water theft appears to have become easier on the watch of these two National Party politicians.

All that would be needed for a trifecta of retiring state politicians associated with water resource policy would be for the current NSW Minister for Primary Industry, Minister for Regional Water and Nationals MLC, Niall Blair, to announce an unexpected desire to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests.

Any further scandal surrounding the management water resources in the NSW section of the Murray-Darling Basin and this may well be a distinct possibility - or even more media coverage like this perhaps?

The Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2017:

A NATIONALS minister is pushing Cabinet colleagues to change irrigation laws to retrospectively justify a decision by his department to give a major political donor and cotton farmer more rights over the precious Barwon-Darling River.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair is behind a push to alter an element of the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan.

It comes after his department in 2016 overruled what it called “minor” error in the law to grant extra irrigation rights to Brewarrina cotton farmer Peter Harris.

A department briefing, seen by The Daily Telegraph, said the error was impacting on “some users wishing to trade between river sections covered by the plan”.

The briefing was written shortly after Mr Harris was given extra rights.

Mr Harris gave $10,000 to the National Party prior to the 2011 election in combined personal donations and those made by his company.

Its understood an internal Coalition fight has broken out between Mr Blair and current Water Minister Gabrielle Upton , who is resisting the changes. The revelations come as several inquiries have been launched into the alleged water theft on an industrial scale of precious resources across the basin…….

The Daily Telegraph has obtained another document showing that the retiring Ms Hodgkinson changed the water sharing plan to benefit irrigators after lobbying. She was water minister at the time.

In a 2012 letter to lobbyist and cotton farmer Ian Cole, Ms Hodgkinson wrote: “Following consideration of a number of WSP (water sharing plan) matter raised with me, I ­requested the Office of Water to make several amendments which I believe now present a fair and equitable outcome for all.”

The Minister for the Environment and Liberal MP for Vaucluse Gabrielle Upton's obvious reluctance may be due to her appreciation of a change in wind direction within the national electorate on the subject of Murray-Darling Basin water allocations.

The present Deputy Prime Minister and Australian Water Minister, Barnaby Joyce, is also in a somewhat precarious position – less to do with his manifest inadequacy as a federal minister and more to do with his stated motives for seeking to add the water ministry to his portfolio responsibilities.

Cartoonist David Rowe at Financial Review

Surprise, surprise - those Murray-Darling Basin water raiders have slithered over the horizon once more and are eyeing off the Clarence Valley river system yet again


With so little fanfare that much of  Northern Rivers region missed it, the NSW Berejiklian Government reopened the March 2016 inquiry into augmentation of water supply for rural and regional New South Wales on 28 May 2017, with Terms of Reference published in July 2017.

This Upper House inquiry is chaired by Robert Brown MLC, from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and its reporting date has been extended to 30 March 2018. 

Current committee membership is as follows:

Robert Brown MLC, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Chair
Mick Veitch MLC, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Chair
Jeremy Buckingham MLC, The Greens
Rick Colless MLC, The Nationals
Scot MacDonald MLC, Liberal Party
Greg Pearce MLC, Liberal Party
Penny Sharpe MLC, Australian Labor Party
Daniel Mookhey MLC, Australian Labor Party
Paul Green MLC, Christian Democratic Party
* Jeremy Buckingham MLC (Greens)is substituting for Dr Mehreen Faruqui MLC for the duration of the inquiry.
* Matthew Mason-Cox MLC (Liberal)  is substituting for Hon Greg Pearce MLC for the duration of the inquiry.
* Paul Green MLC and Penny Sharpe MLC will be participating for the duration of the inquiry.

A poorly advertised public hearing scheduled for 1 August 2017 in Lismore (with details sent to media on 31 July 2017) excluded Northern Rivers residents from giving evidence unless they represented a small number of invited groups.

It appears the committee had also determined that Clarence Valley Council was to be asked its view on diverting Clarence River system flood water.

Given flood water is already diverted to the purpose built Shannon Creek side dam to ensure a sustainable water supply for the est. 125,103 residents (Census 2016) currently living in Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour local government areas, there are no prizes for guessing where any additional water diversion would be allocated.

Yes, that paragon of sustainable water mismanagement - the cluster of councils, industries, irrigators and water traders within the Murray-Darling Basin.

It will come as no surprise that Griffith Council is still pursuing a Clarence River dam and divert scheme. North Coast Voices reported on its obsession in August 2016.

This is what the Griffith City Council Deputy mayor, Dino Zappacosta of Zappacosta Estate Wines in Hanwood, told the inquiry on 1 March 2017:

The issue that my committee, Build More Dams, has looked at is that we need more water because farmers are crying out for more water. We need new water. By "new water", I mean water that is not currently being used at all. We looked at various options, including the Clarence Valley area, where millions and millions of megalitres of water flow out into the sea for what seems to be no real benefit at all for the community of the Clarence region, other than for the natural farming land and the fishery industry there.

It soon became apparent that, appart from the notion of free water at the expense of Clarence Valley communities’ social, cultural, aesthetic, environmental and economic values, Griffith Council knew little about how this dam and divert scheme would work.

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: You have been talking about the Clarence River diversion scheme. Is it correct that that is essentially restricted to the Mann River subcatchment?

Mr ZAPPACOSTA: To the best of my knowledge, it covers most of the tributaries—for example, the Boyd River, the Mann River, the Nymboida River and the Timbarra River. They are highlighted on map 2, which was provided to the Committee.

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: I am a little confused about the way the map reads. It appears as though the water is coming out of the Mann River catchment, which is a subcatchment of the Clarence. The divisions appear to be above the confluence of the Nymboida and the Mann. You recommend a 23 per cent Clarence River diversion, but the question is: What percentage of is that of the Mann River flow and what environmental impact will that have on the Mann River below where it is diverted? We should keep in mind the history of the Snowy River and what has happened there over the past 50 years. Does anybody have any thoughts about that? Mr ZAPPACOSTA: I will have to take on notice exactly how much comes from the Mann River itself.

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: What is the reduction in flow from the sub-catchment rivers below where the water is diverted from them? What environmental impacts will that have on those rivers?

Mr ZAPPACOSTA: I appreciate the question. I think what you are asking is something we should dig into a bit deeper; there should be a study of it, preferably a feasibility study.

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: There needs to be a lot of work done on this, as you would appreciate.

While the Director of Utilities at Griffith City Council stated:

As an engineer I see the great benefits of supporting a scheme such as the Clarence River diversion scheme, not only from a water augmentation point of view. My directorate covers water supply as well as the flooding impacts caused by rainfall run-off. The Clarence River diversion scheme is not only a supply scheme but a flood mitigation solution, as the general manager mentioned. In my research I have referred to the document entitled Lower Clarence Flood Model—Update 2013 produced by BMT WBM consultants. They happen to be the same consultants who undertook our flood study and provided our flood mitigation options. They work across the State and they are well versed in flooding, from the Northern Rivers down to our area.

The Clarence River catchment on the far North Coast of New South Wales is one of the largest catchments on the east coast of Australia. It is approximately 20,000 square kilometres. It is above the towns of Grafton, Maclean and Yamba, and it is home to more than 20,000 people. The lower Clarence Valley has a long history of flooding, since settlement in about 1850. Bear with me as I read out the dates of the flooding events. I was just going to say a number, but it has more of an impact when you follow the years of flooding that the area has endured due to the large catchment that sits above it. Floods were recorded in 1863 and 1864. There was a record flood in 1890 in which two people lost their lives and there was extensive damage to the rural area. Further floods occurred in 1921 and 1928. Since 1945 the incidence of major flooding has been much higher, with floods occurring in 1945, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1954, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1967, 1968, 1974, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1996, 2001, 2009 and 2013.

There is a regular occurrence of extreme flooding in the Northern Rivers catchment, below the Clarence River. Section 4.4 of the Lower Clarence Flood Model—Update 2013 acknowledges that "the river flows originating from upstream of Grafton dominate flooding in the Lower Clarence Valley". Diversion of the Clarence River flows for that area towards the west, and the 25 per cent or 23.8 per cent that will be captured, diverted and controlled, will be of great benefit to flood mitigation in the Northern Rivers area. The document further says that it will maximise the investment from the Government not only to help solve water augmentation issues but to reduce the financial and human impacts flooding has in the northern coastal areas. The Clarence River diversion scheme was documented in 1981 by David Coffey and he estimated costings back then. We have done a projection to a present-day cost of approximately $10 billion. There are statistics on the map that I have provided to the Committee.

The Snowy Mountains scheme would have cost $10 billion in present-day money, so there are similar costings in the schemes. The 1,100 gigalitres diverted per annum from the Clarence River has generated $1.82 billion in agriculture. The scheme means that 23.8 per cent of the flows that would be heading down to flood people can be diverted. When you equate the $550 million a year in flood damages with the cost of a diversion scheme, 1,100 gigalitres can generate $1.8 billion a year in agriculture growth. The additional water means that 118,000 hectares of viable open country can be farmed. The offset of diversion and flood protection is that it is beneficial to all. That is where I will leave it.

The public hearing in Griffith was reported thus by The Area News on 2 March 2017:

HIGH-profile Griffith water users and city officials enjoyed a rare opportunity to sit face-to-face with Members of the NSW Upper House on Wednesday to discuss their handling of water….

The Honourable Rick Colless, The Honourable Paul Green, The Honourable Matthew Mason-Cox and The Honourable Penelope Sharpe were on hand to hear the concerns of the community….

Along with wanting to fix the water sharing plans, the other hot topic was the Clarence River Scheme, initially conceptualised by David Coffey in the 1970s.

The plan outlined diverting river flows westward from high rainfall catchments in the Northern Rivers.

According to Griffith City Council, the scheme will benefit lands south of the Dumaresq River while also providing flows into the Murray River, reducing the reliance for Murray-Darling Basin allocations to fill the original allocation to the basin. 

“We have looked at various options and we look at the Clarence Valley area where there are millions of millions of megalitres of water flowing out into the sea for what seems to be for no real benefit,” Councilor Dino Zappacosta said.

Griffith City Council general manager, Brett Stonestreet said it’s time the scheme is looked at again.

“It provides new water to give this state another shot in the arm,” he said.

“It also looks at potentially reducing flooding impact of the coastal communities adjacent to the Clarence by 25 per cent.

“There is a huge amount of money that can be generated and inland communities rediscovered and regenerated through new water.”

Mayor Dal Broi was pleased with how the inquiry was conducted and the feedback from the Senators.

“Some of the questions that were asked by the panel members, we know now what they are thinking,” he said.

“They were very receptive to the concept of new water so whether it's the diversion of the Clarence or lifting the wall on Burrinjuck Dam ... they were very receptive to that because we tried to make the point that the limited resources at the moment.”

“We need new water if our regions are to grow and have a better long-term sustainable allocation.”

Not content with bringing down the largest river system in Australia in order to line their own pockets, these wanabee water raiders just keep on coming after what they see as more 'free' water for the rorting.

Clarence Valley Council gave evidence at the re-opened inquiry on 1 August and the only question of interest to the water raiders came after a few minutes of questioning at Page 26 of the Lismore public hearing transcript:

The Hon. GREG PEARCE: Thank you for your submission. In your submission you talk about this idea of diversion of the Clarence River to west of the Great Dividing Range. Could you give us a bit of a background on that proposal and what your council thinks about it?

Mr ANDERSON: I will start but Mr Mashiah might finish. Our council has resolved six times that they do not support the diversion of the Clarence, and each time that has been unanimous in regard to council's position. That is based on the fact that damage to the environment and the ecological systems that work within the Clarence River emerge from there. 

The CHAIR [Robert Brown MLC, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party]: You probably cannot answer this, but that is an all-encompassing position of council?

Mr ANDERSON: Yes.

The CHAIR : I wonder what the council's position would be on the diversion of floodwaters only.

Mr ANDERSON: Again, Mr Chair, like you said, I cannot answer that question.

The CHAIR: What I am asking you is that I guess the council's resolutions were not burrowed down to that extent to be able to answer that question. We might ask Clarence council for an opinion on that.

The Hon. GREG PEARCE: Are those decisions supported by an independent side to pick advice? How were they derived?

Mr MASHIAH: There was a Healthy Rivers Commission inquiry into the Clarence in I think it was 1999, from memory, and part of the outcome of that commission inquiry was the importance of regular flood events in terms of the fishing industry and also the cane industry. I believe you have representatives from the cane industry here with us later.

The CHAIR: This afternoon, yes.

Mr MASHIAH: And also in terms of fisheries, one of the aspects that Clarence Valley Council has been active in for the past 20 years is trying to manage the floodplain to address issues such as acid runoff.

The CHAIR: Solid sulfate soils.

Mr MASHIAH: As the sulfate soils and particular acids run off. So we have done things like open floodgates and—

The CHAIR: And you should be congratulated.

Mr MASHIAH: Thank you, Mr Chair, for that. I will pass that on to the relevant staff who have been coordinating that. The regular flushing of those areas, which are fish breeding grounds, by floodwaters is very important. So if floods were diverted there are significant concerns from the fishing industry about the ongoing viability of the industry because the grounds where fish breed, according to the studies that have been undertaken, would then be adversely impacted. So that is one of the reasons that the fishing industry has very strongly opposed, through our estuary management committee in particular and through the estuary management plan, any diversion of water and we have tried to ensure that the fish breeding grounds are protected.

The CHAIR: I just made the observation that most of those fish breeding grounds would not be the same areas of land that are subject to high residential development or business or commercial or other aspects. In other words, you are not talking about the township of Grafton itself, you are talking river peripheries, flooded-out areas, for breeding concerns?

Mr MASHIAH: The challenge is that the urban footprint on the lower Clarence floodplain is probably about 1 to 2 per cent of the total surface area and all the urban areas are surrounded by rural areas. So it is very hard to work out how you manage that 1 or 2 per cent without adversely impacting the other 98 per cent, or vice versa, how do you manage the 98 per cent without adversely impacting 1 or 2 per cent of urban area?

The CHAIR: The 2013 flood, you have described it as a major flood, correct?

Mr MASHIAH: It was the flood of record at Grafton.

The CHAIR: I am wondering how the 2013 flood would have enhanced the fishery on the Clarence?

Mr MASHIAH: The main issue with the 2013 flood—I guess with any flood in the Clarence the flood behaviour in the upper river is a lot different to the flood behaviour in the lower river because of the tidal influences in particular and also how wet the floodplain is already. The 2013 event was actually three floods.

The CHAIR: And they rolled up on each other?

Mr MASHIAH: Yes, within a three-week period—quite distinct flood events.

The CHAIR: So it was a prolonged flood.

Mr MASHIAH: It was a prolonged flood and that meant there was significant inundation of back swamp areas, and I understand that there were some areas that effectively were areas that were flushed that had not been flushed in floods probably since 2001, so it is probably 12 years. So from an ecological perspective, talking to our environmental scientists, I understand that it was actually quite beneficial because the bigger floods only get into those areas once every 10 to 20 years.

The CHAIR: Were there any concurrent blackwater events for the fishery?

Mr MASHIAH: Not that I can recall, and I think that is a result of the management measures that have been undertaken on the floodplain because most of the farmers now operate the floodgates and so only shut the floodgates when there is actually a flood coming and open them fairly soon afterwards.

The CHAIR: So it is their responsibility to operate their own floodgates, is it?

Mr MASHIAH: That has been passed on to them, yes.

The CHAIR: Do you have any oversight of that?

Mr ANDERSON: Yes, we do, and we work with those groups and undertake training et cetera . It is a two-way street of communication: they tell us what they need and, vice versa, we provide training associated with that and inductions and operate that through a number of committees et cetera as well.

Evidence was also given by the NSW Professional Fishermen’s Association (commencing Page 38) the NSW Canegrowers Association (commencing Page 45) and the Clarence Environment Centre (commencing Page 56).


One has to wonder why the committee members of this reformed Water Augmentation Inquiry didn't seek the views of those holding Native Title (See Yaegl People #1 Yaegl People #2) over the Clarence River from the waters approximately half-way between Ulmarra and Brushgrove right down to the eastern extremities of the northern and southern breakwater walls at the mouth of the river.

After all they are significant stakeholders in any discussion of water policy and water management in the Clarence River catchment area.

The other matter of note, arising from North Coast Voices somewhat belated discovery that the water raiders were back on the scene, is the suggestion that not all Clarence Valley councillors had forewarning that council staff were appearing before the inquiry on 1 August.

If true this would be a disturbing indication that council administration has retained some of the bad habits it acquired under the former general manager who was handed his hat in March this year.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

South Australia calls for independent judicial inquiry into water theft under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan



Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Environment Victoria calls on Andrews Government to challenge NSW Berejiklian Government's "rigging" of Murray-Darling Basin Plan river water extraction rules


Environment Victoria, Media Release, Tuesday 25 July 2017:

Calls for Victoria to stand up to NSW water guzzlers

Environmental groups, farmers and Indigenous leaders today called on the Andrews government to respond urgently to claims on ABC’s Four Corners that New South Wales irrigators are engaging in “illegal water use” at the expense of Victoria’s rivers and farmers.

Environment Victoria Acting CEO Dr Nicholas Aberle said:

“Victoria is being cheated out of water and the Victorian government needs to stand up to these greedy cotton growers who are guzzling billions of litres meant to flow downstream for our environment.

“Victorians deserve to know exactly how much water has been lost and how this will affect Victoria’s water supplies and the health of our rivers.

Below: Map showing how alleged illegal water use upstream in NSW affects Victoria


“The worst part is the New South Wales government has been rigging the rules to let these big irrigators get away with it. This shows utter contempt for the health of Australia’s rivers – an attitude that has no place in a government that shares responsibility for delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan,” said Dr Aberle.

Last night’s Four Corners program exposed major issues in the NSW water industry, including claims of illegal water use and tampering with water meters.

“The actions of the NSW government are leaving downstream users and the environment quite literally hanging out to dry. This means there’s less water for Victoria’s farmers, communities and our precious rivers and wetlands.

“We need the Victorian government to take a leadership role in fixing this mess and to make sure this never happens again. The whole plan relies on accurate measurement, tracking and compliance. Based on the revelations last night, it seems clear we can’t rely on big upstream irrigators just to do the right thing.”

Environment Victoria, together with the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Environmental Farmers Network, has written to Victoria’s Minister for Water, Lisa Neville, asking her to:
 
Launch a full investigation into how much water has been lost by changes to water sharing rules in NSW since 2012, and how much damage this has done to Victoria and South Australia.

Implement the Basin Plan in full so all its objectives are met, including finding smart ways to recover the remaining 450 gigalitres (GL) of water to protect Victoria’s rivers and wetlands.

Lead the development of Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council protocols on water integrity to make sure this type of rule manipulation in favour of vested interests never happens again.

“Governments across Australia urgently need to re-establish trust in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the environmental restoration it is designed to achieve. Victoria can and must play an important role in leading this process,” said Dr Aberle.

This call was supported by Rene Woods, Chair, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations & John Pettigrew, Water Spokesperson, Environmental Farmers Network.

And so the spotlight hovers over Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair......


When both the NSW Coalition Government (2 April 2015) and Federal Coalition Government (21 September 2015) gave a minister dual responsibility for agriculture and water one could almost hear the political train careening wildly in the distance.

Unfortunately two years later the people of Australia woke to discover that handing over responsibility for water in a complex major river system to two National Party MPs meant it was also a social, economic and environmental train wreck as well.

All the audits and investigations in the world will not unmake the disaster that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has become under Barnaby Joyce and Niall Blair unless the political will is there, however this is a good start.

"The Auditor-General will investigate how Barnaby Joyce's Dept is monitoring use of environmental water by NSW." [@Tony_Burke]

In an effort to wrest back control of the situation Prime Minister Turnbull has reportedly 
ordered the Murray Darling Basin Authority to conduct an allegedly ndependent basin-wide review into compliance with state-based regulations governing water use. The review report will be presented to the December 2017 Council of Australian Government (COAG) meeting.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Pressure mounts on Turnbull and Berejiklian governments to stop Murray-Darling Basin water theft


MEDIA RELEASE
25 July 2017
MR/56/17

NSW Farmers’ President Derek Schoen’s statement on ABC Four Corners: “Pumping”

“ABC’s Four Corners episode last night raised a number of very distinct issues that all relate to water take in the Murray Darling Basin. One of the issues raised was illegal water take.

The overwhelming majority of farmers and irrigators do the right thing, however, strong regulatory enforcement is needed when it is proven that water has been taken against the rules, or tampering/disabling of metering equipment has occurred. This is theft from all other water users and it should not be tolerated.

Another issue raised on the program was the changes to the rules that were reflected in the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan, finalised in 2012. These rule changes have been the subject of discussion amongst NSW Farmers’ elected representatives during past months and years, and are something that we know causes significant angst amongst all of the water users within that Water Sharing Plan.

Where it is alleged that those rules were changed without true transparency for all water users- NSW Farmers fully supports an investigation into the process by which these rule changes were made. We call for this on the principle that these changes can have a significant impact on all water users, including stock and domestic water rights holders, and downstream users.

These decisions need to be made with full transparency and scientific backing. Rule changes also need to occur through the established processes of the local consultation committee during the appropriate review period. The agricultural community needs complete certainty that this will occur, always.”

NSW Farmers – Level 6, 35 Chandos Street St Leonards 2065

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Australia's future water security losing out in the water wars


ABC News, 24 July 2017:

Billions of litres of water purchased by taxpayers to save Australia's inland rivers is instead being harvested by some irrigators to boost cotton-growing operations, in a policy failure that threatens to undermine the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The pumping of this environmental water means taxpayers have in some cases been effectively subsidising already wealthy agricultural interests, including those of Webster Limited, a publicly-traded company which holds a $300 million water portfolio — the largest Australian-owned private holding in the country.

A Four Corners investigation has found that in the Barwon-Darling system — a critical link in the wider Murray-Darling Basin — NSW Government water extraction rules have given irrigators more reliable access to water than prior to 2012 when the Basin Plan was signed.

Long-time farmers' advocate Mal Peters, who chaired a Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) statutory committee examining the Barwon-Darling, described the rules as "bloody disgusting".

"It rendered the whole plan, in my mind, completely null and void because the amount of water that could be taken out was huge," he said.

University of New South Wales scientist Richard Kingsford said the revelation "goes against the whole tenet of the [Basin] Plan".

"Environmental water bought by taxpayers is going through pumps into storages to grow cotton, and to me that is the biggest problem that we've currently got," he said.

Between 2012 and June this year, more than 74 billion litres of environmental water has flowed into the Barwon-Darling system — including when the controversial 2012 extraction rules allowed irrigators to pump it.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is explicitly aware of these concerns.

In July last year, the MDBA board held private discussions on the problem.

Board member George Warne emailed minutes from this discussion to other board members, including Phillip Glyde, the MDBA chief executive.

His email, seen by Four Corners, described the policies in the Barwon-Darling as an issue which "appears to enable gaming of water extractions ... enabling much higher use of water".

The email also acknowledged "water use behaviours that effectively mine the E-flows that make it into the Barwon-Darling".

These "E-flows" are those that taxpayers had purchased through so-called "buybacks" to save the river system.

Since John Howard announced the Murray-Darling initiative, taxpayers have spent more than $3 billion on water buybacks.

Graziers and townspeople downstream who rely on the river have expressed anger and dismay at the extraction rules, claiming they have seen the river diminish since the new policies were introduced in 2012.

This is what the Murray-Darling Basin Authority states of itself:

With the enactment of the Water Act 2007, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) was established as an independent expertise-based statutory agency.

For the first time in the Basin's history, one Basin-wide institution is responsible for planning the Basin's water resources, with all planning decisions made in the interest of the Basin as a whole….

We are responsible for directing the sharing of the River Murray's water on behalf of the Basin states. The Murray–Darling Agreement, (a schedule of the Water Act 2007) spells out these arrangements.

Under the Agreement, we operate the River Murray system and oversee asset management (Dartmouth and Hume Dam, Lake Victoria, Lower Lake barrages, weirs and locks) with our state partners.

The Authority has over three hundred employees and is headquartered in Canberra.

As the MDBA declares it is responsible for planning decisions and directing water sharing its governing body and the federal water minister have some explaining to do.

The six member Murray–Darling Basin Authority governing body having responsibility for the authority living up to its mandate:

Neil Andrew AO (Chair) – former Liberal MP in the federal parliament, current Chairman of the Crawford Fund in Australia and Commissioner to the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
Phillip Glyde Chief Executive – former Deputy Secretary at the Department of Agriculture
Professor Barry Hart director of environmental consulting company Water Science Pty Ltd and emeritus professor at Monash University 
Ms Dianne Davidson – farmer, agricultural scientist and horticulturalist
Mr George Warne – current chairman of construction company Lipman Pty Ltd, former CEO and Project Director of the Northern Victorian Irrigation Renewal Program, former general manager at Murray Irrigation Limited and former CEO State Water New South Wales
Ms Susan Madden – a principal economist at international consulting firm GHD Pty Ltd engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services to private and public sector clients

Portfolio responsibility for the MDBA is held by Australian Deputy-Prime Minister, Water Minister, and Nationals MP for New England Barnaby Joyce.

Aside from the limitations imposed by having the inept Barnaby Joyce as water minister, a hint as to why this body appears to be dragging its feet over the issue (of improper use of ‘buy back’ and state-gifted waters earmarked for environmental flows) might be found in this exchange previously reported by “Four Corners”.


For better irrigation and for better farming. I mean I just I'm sorry I can't see what's evil about that, I have real trouble understanding why anyone would object to a farmer using the water smarter and better to grow more crops and do it better, I mean has the world gone mad.

This attitude is far from unique and threatens the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

ABC News, 24 July 2017:
The top water bureaucrat in NSW, Gavin Hanlon, has been secretly recorded offering to confidentially share internal government information with irrigation lobbyists — documents he proposed to strip of government logos and share via a special Dropbox account — to assist their lobbying against the contentious Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The recording of the 2016 teleconference also reveals the NSW Government has been actively considering plans, in discussion with irrigators, to abandon the Basin Plan altogether, and has sought legal advice about doing so.
A Four Corners investigation has confirmed that Mr Hanlon, Deputy Director General of the NSW Department of Primary Industries, did not approve a major operation targeting non-compliant irrigators in the north of NSW — an operation urged upon him by his own investigators after they collected evidence that billions of litres of water had been improperly pumped.
"I think that it was clear that there was no appetite for compliance anymore," said Jamie Morgan, who until midway through 2016 managed the department's Strategic Investigations Unit.
"It was odd timing in my view. It was only when we went to the north-west of the state, where we found significant problems, that our team was very quickly disbanded after that.
"Our briefings weren't being answered. And to this day, no-one has actually addressed those issues in that area."
It should come as no surprise that at the heart of the biggest gamer of the Murray-Darling Plan, Webster Limited, is that epitome of far-right, free market greed Chris Corrigan who is this corporation's Chair.

The principal connnection 180 year-old Webster Limited now has to Murray-Darling Basin land under Corrigan is the 200,000 megalitre water entitlement it harvests and can sell-off at will for maximum profit.

Nor should it come as any surprise that the NSW Berejiklian Government supports Corrigan and Webster as well as the other water raiders under the guise of supporting "real world" decisions.
North Coast Voices readers may recall that irrigators, mining corporations and local governments in the Basin region have more than once turned rapacious eyes towards the NSW Northern Rivers, proposing to dam and divert coastal waters for their use.
Proposals which have been strenuously rejected by local communities and Far North Coast councils.