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Growers call for complementary measures in Northern Basin

Cotton Australia is calling on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to take into account the social, economic and environmental benefits of introducing complementary measures as it finalises its Northern Basin review.

The review is currently gathering additional scientific and economic data as well as feedback from communities and farmers on the impact of the MDB Plan.

Cotton Australia General Manager Michael Murray says Basin communities should have no doubts that the full implementation of the Plan – in its current form – would have devastating effects on farmers and towns.”

“Northern Basin water users extracted 3,858 gigalitres per year before the MDBP was implemented. When introduced in 2012, the Basin Plan set limits for consumptive use in the north at 3,468 gigalitres, which meant a 10% reduction or 390 gigalitres less for consumptive use per year,” Mr Murray says.

“Social and economic data that has been generated by the review show impacts of up to 35% on full-time agricultural employment in communities like Warren, Collarenebri and Dirranbandi.”

Cotton Australia argues that the “simply add water” approach – used to justify environmental outcomes – does not in and of itself lead to environmental gains.

“The approach is deeply flawed and should be abandoned. Instead, Cotton Australia has long called for the MDBA to balance social, economic and environmental outcomes by complementing the water already acquired under the plan with a range of other activities,” Mr Murray says.

Funds of up to $400 to $600 million that would otherwise be spent on obtaining the additional 112 gigalitres currently required under the Plan should be redirected to the implementation of a suite of complementary measures, which would leverage real environmental outcomes from the water recovered.

Cotton Australia has already called for surface water acquisitions to cease across the Northern Basin until the Basin Plan can be amended to allow for other measures to be implemented that will improve catchment health. These measures could include:

  • Carp control through the release of the Carp Herpes Virus
  • Cold water pollution mitigation through the installation of thermal curtains on major headwater storages
  • Feral animal control in wetlands such as the Narran Lakes, Gwydir Wetlands and the Macquarie Marshes
  • Fish habitat improvement through re-snagging
  • Fish migration improvement through a series of fish-ways along the Barwon-Darling
  • Acquisition and management of important wetland sites

Mr Murray says cold water pollution is a key issue that should be addressed to help improve catchment health.

“Cold water pollution limits the successful stimulus of native fish breeding events downstream of headwater storages,” Mr Murray says.

Most of the major Northern Basin headwater storages – including Glenlyon, Pindari and Copeton Dams – can only release water from close to the deepest depths of these dams.

“When water is released, it can remain many degrees cooler than the natural surface water temperature and can continue well over 100 kilometres downstream from a dam.”

“We have a ridiculous situation where thousands of megalitres of environmental water is released, worth millions of dollars, but the water is too cold to meet the required fish breeding conditions.”

“Instead of building expensive multi-level water offtake structures costing $10 to $20 million, a cost-effective alternative is to install an adjustable thermal curtain to draw water from the top layer of water in the dam. A thermal curtain was successfully installed at the Burrendong Dam on the Macquarie River,” Mr Murray says.

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Photo by Bernadette Hamblin, courtesy of Cotton Australia

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