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Water Woes

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The Member for Murray has criticised a move to allow floodplain harvesting up north

Recent rainfall was a welcome sight for farmers across the Southern Riverina, as the region heads towards the average rainfall for the season.

But, Member for Murray Helen Dalton said rain will not end the drought if the NSW Government allows certain farmers to secretly siphon off water before it reaches the river.

"Government ministers keep saying only rain with fix our problem," Mrs Dalton said

"Well, with the rain this month we’ve seen a secret regulation change that allowed rainwater to be diverted for private use.

"If this continues to happen, downstream towns with no drinking water won’t get a drop, even if we have a wet 2020."

Mrs Dalton criticised Water Minister Melinda Pavey's recent decision to allow a select few irrigators in North-West NSW to harvest rainwater onto their on-farm storages, preventing the water from reaching the Darling River.

The Minister temporarily lifted an embargo on the practice known as floodplain harvesting in certain cotton growing valleys.

A leaked email from a NSW Government bureaucrat to lobbyists revealed the NSW Government desperately tried to justify this decision after they’d already given the green light for irrigators to divert the rainwater.

"Clearly lobbyists have had a huge say in what is going on," Mrs Dalton continued.

"I'm calling for the NSW Government to have an embargo on floodplain harvesting for all, not just allowing a select few to take water when downstream communities and towns need the water desperately."

The Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party member said the practice stops water from the Darling River, which has disastrous consequences downstream.

"There's a certain percentage of water that South Australia calls on from the Menindee Lakes," Mrs Dalton explained.

"Now if water doesn't reach the Menindee Lakes then water is then taken off irrigators in the Murray.

"So those people that are taking water up there are really denying irrigation communities, the environment and towns, water. To me, that sounds like a very greedy way to manage water."

Irrigators along the Murray River in NSW have received zero allocation for several irrigation seasons in a row, which impacted productivity.

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Mrs Dalton said the current situation proves 'dodgy dealings' exposed on 4 Corners more than two years ago have continued.

"The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) supposedly started investigating this in July 2017. But we’ve heard nothing since, not even an update confirming the inquiry is actually happening," she explained.

"If we’re not serious about stamping out malpractice, of course it’s going to continue.

"I’m an irrigator myself. I’ve always defended the right of irrigators to access water. But there needs to be proper rules, monitoring and transparency. We must prioritise critical life needs of downstream communities."

"This regulation change was made in secret, with no consultation, and no details released to the public," Mrs Dalton said

"We need to know how much water was diverted from the river, which irrigators have benefited and whether those who got the water have donated money to the National Party."

Mrs Dalton said the NSW Government behaves like it has something to hide.

"The NSW Government has refused to support the water inquiry of Mick Keelty, whom the federal government appointed to investigate state water sharing arrangements.

"That means Mr Keelty can’t access NSW Government documents.

"They’ve also had nine years to licence floodplain harvesting, but still haven’t got around to it.

"We need a royal commission now."

On 27 February, NSW Parliament will debate whether to lobby the Commonwealth government for a federal royal commission.

This followed a petition by rural community advocacy group Speak Up, which garnered more than 10,000 signatures to force a debate.

The petition also calls for a national water register – an online database the allows the public to search for the names of companies and individuals who own water.

Mrs Dalton will introduce the petition and lead the debate.

"Labor have said they’ll support the petition motion. But so far we’ve had silence from the Liberals and Nationals," Mrs Dalton said.

"It’ll be interesting to see what they do."

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