Environment being sold down the rivers

General / Jun 5, 2002

Many of the plans to return NSW river systems to a healthy condition have failed to meet basic environmental requirements, according to the state's peak environment group.

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) said that a number of Water Sharing Plans drawn up for rivers by regionally based committees had failed to meet the primary objective of the NSW Water Management Act, which stipulated that environmental health of river systems was the first priority.

NCC called on the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, John Aquilina, to throw out plans that failed to meet environmental objectives, saying some of the plans could be in breach of the Act and therefore subject to legal challenge.

The Act specified that only when sufficient environmental flows were returned to rivers to ensure healthy ecosystem function could the remaining water be divided between competing users, such as agriculture and industry.

“The Minister should discard Water Sharing Plans that have failed to meet the environmental health requirements of the Act, so we don't end up in protracted and hostile court cases,” said NCC Water Policy Officer, Sally Semmel.

“The NSW Water Management Act recognised that without river health there can be no certainty for agriculture, industry or town water supplies. Therefore the objectives of every committee across the state should have been to make sure that environmental flows were enough to keep the river healthy, and then to look at how the remaining water was allocated.

“Most of them achieved this objective to some extent, however some have simply downgraded environmental considerations and set up a regime that will be environmentally disastrous, costly to the public, and quite possibly illegal.

“Many river systems across NSW are at crisis point, and few are undamaged by development, particularly agriculture and urban water demand. There simply isn't enough water remaining in the State's river systems to keep them healthy if the pace and style of development continues without effective, sustainable management.

“Rivers that have an iconic place in the public mind; like the Murrumbidgee, the Darling and the Hawkesbury-Nepean; are suffering the effects of salinity, wetland draining, carp infestation, massive water extraction for irrigation, and pollution – and the economic impacts are staggering.

“Getting environmental flows back into our rivers is a necessity if we want to try and reverse some of this damage, and if we want to stop future generations from having to foot a massive repair bill,” Ms Semmel said.

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