Sucking the darling river dry

Massive amounts of water are being stolen from the Darling River System, under the noses of regulators. Jeremy Buckingham blames inappropriate large scale cotton farming in Queensland, and deep corruption in the National Party. The most concentrated forms of capital get to bribe government to exploit natural systems for their own benefit only.

Transcript of Jeremy Buckingham's video presentation

The once mighty Darling River is dying. This 1,472 kilometre long river is struggling under the yoke of greed and mismanagement.

The problem starts in Queensland, where huge amounts of cotton are being grown with water taken from tributaries of the Darling. Cubbie station for example, basically diverts the Culgoa and Balonne Rivers into its dams. Owned by a foreign textile firm it can grow 200 square kilometres of cotton, has water storages 28 kilometres long which can store 460 billion litres of water.

Police recently raided another cotton farm at Goondiwindi, where there are 52 kilometres of illegal earthworks, diverting water into private irrigation dams and away from the river. There are allegations this farm has misused public funds allocated to improve the health of the river.

But it is not just in Queensland we have a problem. Big irrigators in NSW have also been accused of large scale water theft, with water pump meters either sabotaged or not connected, pumping during embargoes, and so water set aside for environmental flows is stolen.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and other inquiries, are now investigating whether public officials stopped compliance officers investigating allegations of widespread water theft.

All this cotton irrigation up here - legal and illegal, diverts vast volumes of water from flowing down the Darling. It hurts floodplain graziers, it wrecks the environment, and it causes anxiety in downstream communities.

The Minindee Lakes near Broken Hill, fills when the river floods. It provides drinking water for the 20,000 people of Broken Hill, important breeding habitat for birds, and economic development in the form of recreation and tourism. But in recent times, the government has quickly drained the lakes, and the lower Darling has run dry.

Now the NSW Government is building a $500 million pipeline from Wentworth on the Murray river, for pumping water 270 kilometres back upstream to Broken Hill. The people of Broken Hill do not want this pipeline. They are legitimately worried that it will be used to justify removing more water from Minindee, it will allow more irrigation in Queensland and Northern NSW, and we will see less water flowing down the Darling.

And cotton irrigators are crowing about it, describing the Broken Hill pipeline as "a win for NSW growers, and as a solution Cotton Australia and its allies have long lobbied for. One irrigator who has benefited enormously, is the owner of Tandou Station, south of Minindee Lakes. Barnaby Joyce, signed off on a $78 million buy back of that farms water rights, which was nearly double the valuation of his own bureaucrats, at the Australian bureau of agricultural resource, economics and sciences.

And upstream of Minindee is one of the greatest injustices of the Darling river system. The failure of successive governments to build a downstream weir for the people of Wilcannia. Wilcannia has one of the worst life expectancies in Australia. Only 42 years old for women, and 37 years old for men. The Barkindji, or river people, are absolutely appalled, that their river is reduced to a trickle through their town, because of upstream irrigation.

No doubt water management is very, very complex. There are big dollars involved, and their is lots of openings for corruption, and fraud to sneak in. Climate change will exacerbate drought and flood. It will reduce soil moisture, and lead to less run-off into our rivers and water-ways.

Continuing to mis-manage water, in this country, in an age of climate change, will lead to a disaster. But that is exactly what the National Party have been doing. In 2014 the NSW government passed legislation which cuts off the water data set to exclude the millenium drought. That means the last 13 years of data is excluded, because it might mean less water is allowed for big cotton irrigators. This year they passed legislation that allows illegally constructed works, that divert water into irrigation dams and away from natural waterways, to be retrospectively legalized.

Having the Nationals in charge of water is like having the fox in charge of the hen house. They can not be trusted.

There are big questions to answer. Should we irrigate so much cotton in an arid continent like Australia? How much water is being stolen? What is the true value of water? How do we ensure environmental flows are not sucked up irrigators pumps? Australia urgently needs a Royal Commision into the administration of the Murray - Darling basin. So that all the farms, communities and environments that depend on these once mighty rivers, are healthy into the future.

author: Jeremy Buckingham
description: Gross corporate and agricultural over-exploitation of Darling - Murray river system, and plain injustice for farms, communities and environment.
keywords: Climate Change, Systemic water theft for irrigation, Deep political corruption