Northern Basin flows and embargoes
Flood plain harvesting in some Northern Rivers was embargoed for the first time ever in NSW a couple of weeks ago. The embargo was put on to allow first flush flows to get down the river and it came on top of embargoes on pumping from rivers.
Unfortunately, as so often seems to be the case, news of the embargo and the cost to producers, who would otherwise have been legally able to put aside water to grow a much needed crop, was not positively acknowledged by media or even by some other farmers.
That ‘first’ went through to the keeper, instead the critics focused on expressing outrage when the embargo was lifted, and unfortunately that fuelled another bout of social media abuse.
Northern Basin irrigation farmers are no different to any other farmer in Australia, they are hard working people whose livelihoods and communities depend on having some water to grow an agricultural product. They – like so many others across Australia – have been in drought for far too long, massive, worst on record, drought with no incomes and small-town businesses grinding to a halt.
It is upsetting to see the lack of regard to mental health demonstrated by some media, some politicians (who try to hide their nastiness by accusing everyone of being a ‘corporate’) and even more disappointingly by some other farmers
The Northern Basin irrigation farmers I speak to, absolutely understand and accept the need to ensure that water gets down the river for essential needs; they accept that we need to have first flush protections – but (just like their colleagues on the Murray) it hurts to see water flowing past.
This first FPH embargo did result in confusion. It highlighted that there needs to be much more work to ensure the Government is clear and practical on what irrigators need to do (to comply) and to give some clarity around the outcomes that need to be achieved for the embargo to be lifted.
Let’s remember a river is not a pipeline, water is naturally lost along the way as it soaks into bone dry ground, replenishes water holes or is pumped or stored for stock and domestic use. So I would accept it is not just a matter of how much rain has fallen, but similarly when it takes weeks for the water to work its way down the system it would not be fair to wait until a flow fills every water hole.
The great news is that the recent flows now look like making it, through an incredibly dry system, to Menindee. We would all be hoping for much more rainfall to continue the improvement.
It is entirely reasonable for an irrigation farmer to point out that, after three years of not being able to grow a crop, they would like to be able to earn some income and inject some desperately needed money into their local communities. Every ML of water used for irrigation produces a benefit for local communities, farmers pump millions into small town businesses when they can produce an income. And when they can’t those businesses hurt too. It’s the same whether it is Wee Waa or Deniliquin.
That makes any decision like this a balance, it wont always be precise but if it is built around clear guidelines then it should be able to avoid divisive surprises.
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