River flow plea

More than 50 people attended a public forum on the health of our waterways in Swan Hill on May 1, including discussions around the Darling River, pictured. Picture supplied.

More than 50 people attended a public forum on the health of our waterways in Swan Hill on May 1, including discussions around the Darling River, pictured. Picture supplied.

A PLEA for a return to river flows to a more sustainable level and outrage at the state of the Darling River and impacts on remote communities were echoed at a health rivers forum in Swan Hill last week.

The Out Future on the River public forum, attended by more than 50 people on May 1, showed a high level of interest and concern in the way the rivers are being managed, according to organiser Nicole McKay. 

She said many called for a royal commission and signed letters to politicians requesting the same. 

"The attendees were encouraged to call Tony Burke, shadow minister for the environment, and Lisa Neville, Victoria's water minister, to ask them to return water to the rivers, as agreed upon in the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and ensure water for all communities in the future," Ms McKay said. 

Horticulturist Peta Thornton highlighted the need for return of the full amounts of water to the river, recounting her love for the rivers, lakes and red gums. 

"She explained that if the water committed to was returned to the system, we could have these precious waterways flow and fill more frequently," Ms McKay said. 

"This would enrich our community in so many ways, for recreation, tourism, thriving ecology, support of indigenous environmental and cultural heritage, and a strong future. 

Ms Thornton said a greater base-load of water in the rivers ensured better quality of water for all, reducing the chances of blue-green algae and blackwater events. 

"We're (irrigated horticulture in general) getting the benefits in terms of the funding that's being given by the federal government," she said. 

"We're getting the benefits because we can, if we so choose to sell our water to the government, (or on the temporary market), get efficiencies for our farm, get efficiencies for our irrigation district. 

"So, that funding is actually flowing into irrigation communities. We're talking about it, but we're also fighting against the plan politically, and undermining the possible outcomes that we could achieve for our nation."

Ms Thornton said she wanted her grandchildren to enjoy what made her childhood special, enjoying the flourishing river, wetlands, and a good water supply "for our farm, that my children might one day manage". 

Ms Thornton said she wasn't ready to trade water in the system for projects that had not been "rigorously tested", particularly the Menindee Lakes system and the risk to fish species posed by a plan to decommission some of the lakes. 

Sunraysia irrigator Bill McClumpha also highlighted the impact on public wilderness and waterways if the Victorian and NSW governments didn't return 450 gigalitres to the river. 

"We've got $13 billion up for a plan to deal with the situation (of over-allocated rivers brought to a head by water-trading). There's a lot of people who have got their eye on that money, in the irrigation space, and they don't want that money going to the environment," he told the forum. 

"Should this scenario come to pass, money intended for the common good, sustainable irrigation, for the community, who love boating, fishing, and camping, who enjoy the amenity of a vibrant environment, will be used for private benefit. 

"With demands on water and climate change, what we will see is lakes that are emptier and for longer, and a river that runs slower and lower, with all the risks that brings."

Traditional owner Brendan Kennedy acknowledged the importance of agriculture, but said the total amount of agreed basin plan water was needed to restore the waterways to viability and health.

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