Trip tells a sad story about water policy
July 27, 2018
A recent tour of regional NSW has left Greg Toll with unforgettable images and clear concerns for distressed communities.
The Speak Up ambassador and his wife Margaret have recently returned from a trip of over 3200 km which took them from their home in Bendigo through Mildura, Broken Hill, Bourke, up to Brewarrina and back through Griffith and Deniliquin before arriving home.
During his tour Mr Toll met with numerous community members including several councillors and mayors, to better understand the issues being faced, particularly by those in the Darling and Lower Darling River areas. He also introduced Speak Up and its policy document Balancing the Impacts of the Basin Plan.
He discussed the socio-economic impacts the Basin Plan is having on communities in southern NSW and northern Victoria and the concerns the impacts of removing a further 450 GL will not only destroy communities, it will cause unnecessary flooding in trying to deliver it. Mr Toll also addressed the fact that removing a further 450GL from the communities in the Murray, Goulburn and Murrumbidgee valleys would not solve the problems faced in the Darling.
Mr Toll and his wife have returned emotionally drained from what they saw and heard during their trip, especially the clear message that the grass roots concerns from communities are not been heard in the hallways of Canberra.
This was summed up during a meeting with the Mayor of Wentworth Shire Melisa Hendricks. “Melissa is very concerned that the right messages are not being heard in Canberra. In her shire like many others people are suffering, shops and banks are closing. Melisa is also concerned about the water pipeline from Wentworth to Broken Hill which is being built with no consultation. There is also concern the water will come from the Murray River system … again, we’re trying to fix every problem through the Murray, instead of looking at other options
“We drove past the teams of people, equipment and machinery constructing the pipeline along the highway on our way to Broken Hill, where the reality of the drought started to become evident with dead and starving emus and kangaroos littering the sides of the road in their search for water while this enormous pipeline is constructed,” Mr Toll said.
Mr Toll said that the situation only became more severe as he continued his journey meeting with Broken Hill Mayor Darriea Turley, Bourke Mayor Barry Hollman and Brewarrina Mayor Phillip O’Connor. He also attended a community meeting in Menindee where he met community members and landowners.
“It was devastating to see the state of the water in the Darling River at Wilcannia; it was green with a mouldy smell and I can’t help but worry about the poor people relying on the Darling for the water supply there.
“Driving through to White Cliffs there isn’t a blade of grass and the wildlife didn’t even have the strength to get away from our car as we travelled north to Trimby Station. A month ago a game of cricket was played in the Darling near here. They’re hand-feeding stock and the Station’s feed bill will surpass $750,000 by the end of July. The same stress on people was also evident in Louth,” he said.
Mr Toll said he heard the same messages everywhere he went – while people understand a drought is a drought, there is no excuse for the poor water management that has caused so much stress and grief for those communities up and down the Darling.
“The frustration and anger was pretty evident, with a lot of angst about the rules around when pumps upstream are turned on so that storage dams can be filled; and there are some pretty big ones as you get close the Queensland border. While most point fingers at cotton growers, surely the rules and management of the system by government has to be called to account,” Mr Toll said.
Heading home the Tolls called into Griffith and then Deniliquin where the scale of water purchases by Government under the Basin Plan are having major socio-economic impacts on agriculture and local communities. Governments have targeted the majority of water recovery in the Southern Basin with major impacts on NSW and Victorian Murray regions.
The Tolls, who originally come off the land, running a prime lamb and hay production enterprise just out of Gunbower, have always understood the importance of water management.
“The current state and what we see happening to our communities is devastating given the prosperity I have experienced. The trip showed me the two extremes of water management. On the one had we have communities along the Darling struggling for water because the river isn’t flowing and part of that is the management of Menindee Lakes. And then along the Murray we are going to see landowners flooded out in attempts to get water to South Australia, all at the expense of communities in the middle.
“It just isn’t right; with Menindee pretty much empty all the water South Australia demands and is guaranteed will have to come from storages in Victoria. The Murray will be flowing but producers along the way will not get a drop,” Mr Toll said.
He wonders how governments and those who advise them have made such a mess of the management of water in Australia under the Basin Plan. He worries about the future and hopes that very soon decision makers start listening to those who will be left with the burden of decisions made by those without skin in the game.
“There are numerous options that can be explored to help communities across the entire Southern Basin which will also help maximise ecological outcomes, but currently they are been ignored,” Mr Toll said.