Irrigators lash Wentworth scientist

October 24, 2017

Comments by an environmental scientist about the lack of water for forests and wetlands in the Murray Darling Basin has irritated irrigators.

Assoc Prof Jamie Pittock, who wants to see water buy-backs from irrigators recommenced, recently visited the region to see how the Murray Darling Basin plan was being implemented.

But his comments in a Fairfax article published on the weekend about pushing more water down the rivers, has upset some farmers.

The Wentworth Group’s research has already revealed physical and other barriers that threaten ‘‘the survival of floodplain forests and the future of the entire Murray-Darling river system’’, Dr Pittock said.

‘‘The Victorian and NSW governments are actively destroying the basin plan,’’ he said.

‘‘There's no point having a large volume of water for the environment if the state governments will not let it out of the river channels and onto the floodplains ... to keep forests and wetlands alive.’’

Irrigators point to the current management of rivers and the regular flooding of wetlands, as evidence that enviornmental water is being delivered.

The Goulburn Broken CMA reported recently that privately owned wetland was flooded for the first time with water donated by an investment fund.

Up to 185 megalitres of water was set aside for the lagoon at Yambuna.

The Barmah Forest was given an environmental watering last November.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Graeme Pyle said the claim that rivers are being “actively destroyed” because water flows are not high enough is laughable enough in itself.

‘‘To blame Victorian and NSW Governments, who are trying to deliver a balanced Murray-Darling Basin Plan for their communities, is unconscionable.

‘‘Mr Pittock believes it is okay to flood private property along the Murray River and its tributaries, which indicates he did not visit the region during last year’s flood event and see the personal devastation, not to mention traumatic death of wildlife and nature fish from the associated black water event.

‘‘When will these scientists and Governments to whom they report to, realise that Basin Plan water volumes as proposed will simply not fit down the system.

‘‘For example, there is a constraint called the Barmah Choke which is a narrow stretch of river. Trying to force water through this section is like trying to get peak hour traffic through a major metropolitan freeway when half the lanes are closed. You simply cannot get the flow!’’

National Irrigators Council CEO Steve Whan says headline seeking comments from the Wentworth group were unhelpful to the task of achieving the basin plan, and dealing with the very difficult issue of removing constraints.

Mr Whan said the Wentworth Group has a legitimate role in advocating the environmental health of the Murray Darling Basin, but they are diminishing their ‘independence’ "by being sensationalist, instead of constructive''.

“We are part way through a very difficult process in implementing the Murray Darling Basin plan. It has cost a lot of jobs and has been very hard for many irrigation communities. Yet irrigators are committed to making it work, because we know that the health of the river is vital to everyone who relies on it and lives in the basin.

"It is clear from the on the ground reports, the reports from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and other environmental agencies, that there have been some positive early results. But we are only half way through and some things, including constraints removal, have been harder to resolve than others.''

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