Thursday, September 21, 2023

Basin Bound: Absurdity Found

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The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper

Federal government of both sides have presided over a plan to save the Murray Darling Basin.

It is the biggest water reform since Federation, based on political deception, ignorance, scientific perjury, greed, corruption and the raping of our countryside.  

And all this is from the information PUBLICLY AVAILABLE.

Basin Bound- community protestors
Photo: Sophie Baldwin

The Darling, the Murray, the Murrumbidgee, all a mess, but for very different reasons.

The Darling is in trouble from insufficient flow and Murray Darling Basin Plan Sustainable Diversion Limit objectives.

In 2021, in Australia, the average life expectancy for a male in Wilcannia is 38 years, yes 38! For women it is 42, forty bloody two!

If you want to protest about something, how about protest about our brothers and sisters who are being robbed of the ability to have clean water, food and to teach their culture to their kids. This is happening NOW, as you read this, in Australia, in 2021.

What happens when you remove a food source for people who live on country? What happens when you remove the spiritual mother of the Barkindji? What happens to the kids who have nothing to do?

Michael Kennedy, who cannot teach his kids to fish, described it so well, “Our people were massacred, we then had the stolen generation and now we are the stolen water generation.”

Michael isn’t hysterically angry, he doesn’t preach hate of white oppression, he doesn’t want money, he wants access to water! Clean, viable, life giving water!

Their river is now dry more often than not, and yet a flowing river is an integral part of their culture. We also met Barkindji woman, Muriel Riley, stolen from her home and the river when she was just five years old and now, 60 years later, the river is being taken from her again.

Remember, the two defining priorities of the plan are environment and critical human needs.

The destruction got worse at Menindee, the ecological hotspot that carried more water birds than Kakadu, not to mention fish, kangaroos, and food production.

Fields of dead plantings, lakes like deserts and broken people. The former 2,000 gigalitre, four Sydney Harbours, lake system now targeted to be no more than 88 gigalitres. That’s efficiency!

Locals described watching the kangaroos starve to death, fish kills, the death of tourism and depopulation.

The once thriving ecosystems and viable community now another victim of water reform.

Our trip coincided with a NSW Upper House Inquiry into the lake system. We sat and listened as black, white and green all spoke with a common voice. From Elders, environmentalists, town councillors and food producers, a common theme – governments that listen but do not hear, objectives set in stone no matter the cost, expendable people.

Philip Glyde of the Murray Darling Basin Authority once summed up the plan as having, ‘winners and losers’.

Maybe that is what happens to areas of limited political power, you become the unfortunates, the losers.

The NSW Government is still pushing ahead to licence floodplain harvesting, a move that could cement the destruction of these communities.

We are asked to trust the same departments who excluded key stakeholders in floodplain harvesting consultation because they ‘weren’t favourable’. Even former Murray Darling Basin Authority water expert, Maryanne Slattery, has evidence of excessive floodplain harvesting, an estimated 3,000 gigalitres or six Sydney Harbours.

It is also noteworthy that South Australia’s water provided from NSW is basically set in stone. Even when the Darling historically provided 39% of SA’s water and climate affecting basin inflows, they still receive 100%, pulled from the Murray, as well as the Murray supplying the new Broken Hill pipeline.

Our tour continued down the Darling and on to the Murray, the plan to save the basin kept on demonstrating its failings. Fields of salinity in new irrigation areas of almonds that, 20 years ago, were dry land paddocks.

Photo: Sophie Baldwin

The explosion of corporate agriculture, opening out new irrigation areas, putting in permanent plantings that require irrigation every year as opposed to annual-grown when water is available.

Almonds for example, use more water per hectare than rice or cotton, every year. Just a reality.

The Murray issues include the largest geographical shift of water ever. Our Murray eroded more under a plan to save it than the last 100 years of river regulation.

The Murray is not a ditch, it is a living river. It has natural constraints that currently agriculture, dilution, trade, conveyance, and end of system targets all ignore.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of wetlands and creeks now lay dormant in the mid Murray regions of Northern Victoria and Southern NSW after government water reform.

That is Australian food production and important ecosystem functions. Breeding, feeding, water, bugs, fish, snakes, owls, etc.

Are you starting to wonder why our Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, or Federal Water Minister, Keith Pitt, don’t have press releases about these issues?

Let me grab my tin foil hat and continue.

There is also the creation of a $2 billion unregulated water trading system. No regulation, no publicly accessible national register.

A water register, like the 2004 national water initiative called for, and the Feds spent $30 million creating, to then abandon.

The government even trades water. The NSW Government held water in environmental accounts for water traders, the same water traders who compete against people trying to feed their animals and families, the same people who love their land and want to pass it on better than they found it.

The Murrumbidgee is basically now cut off from the Murray through government assisted expansion of huge dams and corporate operations with pumps that make the river run backwards.

Then there are the community groups fighting government to stop them destroying their environment with ignorance and total disregard for wisdom of old souls.

There are problems with the bottom end of the basin also. The Murray does need water out the mouth but as an estuary, sometimes fresh, sometimes salty. Current basin plan objectives attempt to hold the Murray mouth open with fresh water, totally ignoring the impacts of the dams built down there for fresh water that caused silting up and formation of sand islands.

We are also attempting to hold the lower lakes above sea level, growing the lakes’ huge surface area, increasing evaporation and fighting climate change, 50% less inflows and sea level rise predictions.

In a country as dry as ours we have even excluded the lower portion of South Australia from the whole plan, the thousands of kilometres of drains and ground water irrigation that once fed the Coorong. Country drained by white early South Australian farmers to turn swamps to farmland.

There are basically problems everywhere, from corrupt elements in irrigation companies, government, lobbyists, and traders. Then there are all the good people caught up, the suicides, loss of schools, footy clubs, and health services. The depopulation and drying out of former floodplains.

I guarantee a process that created this huge national disgrace, treason and environmental destruction will not be fixed by the same process that created it, politics.

We need a different approach, communities, old souls, humility, and humans who view our land, ecosystems and sustainable farming in a wholistic sense.

Some currently feed off division as they line their pockets.

We went Basin Bound and I’m saddened by what we found.

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 18 February 2021

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 18 February 2021.


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