An “apprehensive approach” is being taken to the draft NSW Water Strategy, released this week.
Speak Up Campaign chair Lachlan Marshall said developing a clearly defined strategy was “a step in the right direction,” but there remained a high level of mistrust in communities around the NSW Government’s water management.
“The first priority in the draft strategy is to ‘build community confidence and capacity through engagement, transparency and accountability’. While that would be very much welcomed, it will take a significantly different approach to what we have seen in the past decade,” Mr Marshall said.
He added “words in a glossy document” is not what communities want or need.
“We need action to improve water management and repair the damage that has occurred to our agricultural sector, our communities and the environment,” Mr Marshall said.
”Water policy decisions over the past two decades have seen the reliability of General Security Entitlements in the NSW Murray plummet from above 80 per cent in the mid 1980s, to a yield of now sub 50 per cent.
“This cannot all be attributed to climate change; policy decisions have had a major impact on water availability to food producers in one of the most diverse food bowls in the nation. And it is wreaking havoc.”
Mr Marshall said removing policy makers out of regional centres and locating them in city offices has resulted in isolated decision making, where local knowledge is disregarded.
He described the Snowy Hydro Scheme as “a great example of the disconnect between the southern food bowl and the city decision-makers”, and is concerned that under the latest water strategy the NSW Murray would “miss out again”.
“Proceeds from the sale of Snowy Hydro are going to fund water infrastructure projects in six valleys across our state, all outside the Murrumbidgee and Murray Valleys.
“The Snowy Hydro Scheme was designed to not only generate electricity, but also open up our irrigation regions and provide food security. Meanwhile, we have seen our reliability slashed yet no effort to use funds from the Snowy Hydro sale to protect or shore up our water supply.
“Over two years ago we discussed ways the sale funds could be used with Deputy Premier John Barilaro, but it seems he left town and lost interest. This is another example of why we get frustrated and lose faith in the state government and its bureaucracy – there doesn’t seem to be any desire to fix the problems which have been created in our region.”
Mr Marshall therefore encouraged NSW DPIE to look beyond its own bureaucracy and local government for advice on water planning issues, and start engaging effectively with stakeholder leaders who have holistic knowledge of water issues and the impacts of decision making.
“This is the key to a successful strategy. We need key departmental staff returned to our region and genuine efforts to collaborate and develop solutions,” Mr Marshall said.
“Writing a fluffy document is not enough.”
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 25 February 2021.