Murray Darling Tour 30 January to 2 February 2012

Murray Darling Tour 30 January to 2 February 2012

Jeremy with State Water manager Barry Philp at the inlet to the lake system

Jeremy with State Water manager Barry Philp at the inlet to the lake system

As the Greens MP in the NSW Parliament with portfolio responsibilities for Western NSW and water issues, it was important that I get out along the Darling and Murray rivers to talk with the community about what’s happening on the ground out there.

My office has been touring the southern Darling and middle Murray river areas this week speaking with local water managers, environment groups and farmers. Being on the ground, looking at and swimming in the rivers and inspecting the local farming operations is the best way to develop an understanding of how the system works and the environmental assets and communities that rely on the water.

The trip started in Broken Hill on Monday where we meet with local Greens members and the Darling River Action Group.  Broken Hill relies on the Menindee Lakes system for its town water but this area is also crucial to the operation of the southern Darling and Murray system. We were lucky to get a tour of the Menindee Lakes which acts as an off river storage system that uses the previously ephemeral lakes.  This water is released for down stream users and to supplement Murray River flows to meet South Australian needs. With massive flows coming down the Darling from recent rains in Queensland and NSW it was magnificent to see the river in full flow and the operation of the infrastructure allowing the lakes to fill. Watching a flow of 15,000 ML a day charge through the levy gates is an awesome sight.

15,000 megalitres flow out of the main wier on the Darling at Menindee Lakes

15,000 megalitres flow out of the main wier on the Darling at Menindee Lakes

Further south in the system we were guided by a local grape grower out to Lake Victoria, another off-river storage that backs up South Australian supplies. Frenches Creek feeds the lake and has been moved to create a more direct water channel. This has left the old Frenches creek bed dry and I could very quickly see the impact on the environment surrounding the old creek system. The skeletal remains of thousands of dead trees including once magnificent River Red Gums are a feature across the system where artificial flows have left other areas dry for decades.

The junction of the Darling and Murray systems creates a visual spectacle as the different colours from the two river leaves an obvious line down the centre downstream of the junction. The waters of the Darling have travelled a thousand or so kilometres by the time they have reached this point and the line reminds you of that distance and the vastly different country that makes up the Murray Darling basin.

Day 3 of the trip saw us tour Lake Gol Gol and the Yanga National Park on our way across to Hay. Lake Gol Gol is an example of the disregard for many environmentally sensitive sites along the system.  A local creek that would have normally filled the lake on big flows is now regulated and closed at the lake entrance but provides water for the thousands of grape vines and orange trees around the Mildura area. This important wetland for local birdlife saw a flow in 2010 which resulted in an explosion of bird life and breeding but it is not known when another flow will be allowed into the system.

Jeremy at the beautiful Lake Cawndilla

Jeremy at the beautiful Lake Cawndilla

With one day left on the tour our attention will turn the farming districts around Griffith. This community has been very outspoken in their opposition to the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan. I am looking forward to meeting local farmers to hear their side of the story.

The Murray Darling Basin Plan is currently on exhibition. I encourage everyone concerned about the health of our greatest river system and the future of agricultural communities along the system to have their say. We may not get another chance to pursue this important reform and I hope after this trip I am better able to engage in this debate.

 

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