The Narrandera Shire Council decided at its meeting on Tuesday to begin lobbying state and federal members regarding the Yanco-Colombo Creek weir and regulator.
The Council also agreed to have a representative presence on the Yanco Creek and Tributaries Advisory Council (YACTAC). The motion from the floor was proposed by Deputy Mayor David Fahey, who voiced his concerns regarding the weir.
“They’re going to turn off the creek,” Cr Fahey said.
“I think there are holes in their research. The creek system is 800km long. There’s no mention of the platypus population along the creek system. It’s a $50 million infrastructure project. There was a 198 page report that was difficult to find in the first place and has dropped off the internet.”
While Cr Fahey did not specify which report under discussion, the 198-page sustainable diversion limits (SDL) Business Case, “Improved flow management works at the Murrumbidgee Rivers – Yanco Creek offtake”, can still be found at the NSW Department of Industries website.
However, the full business case is not listed under the sub-headings for the Murrumbidgee River and has instead been placed further down under a list of generic NSW projects.
However, according to the president of YACTAC Bob Crawford, a modified version of the document is currently unavailable to the public.
“Local MP Austin Evans wants to release it. Apparently it will include an environmental allocation to be made of 200 megalitres a day at the top end. It’s less than what I was asking for – I said 300mL.”
The SDL projects are designed to find ways to increase flows in the Murray Darling Basin without resorting to water buybacks. Their aim is to find inefficiencies in the system.
Three projects are proposed for the Murrumbidgee and all three are located along the Yanco Creek. One of them is the regulator and weir, which would include a passageway for fish; another is a computer aided river management system, although this has already been in place along much of the Yanco Creek system.
The third SDL project is titled Modernising Supply Systems for Effluent Creeks. According to Mr Crawford, YACTAC has experienced frustration in trying to make the case that the Yanco-Colombo Creek system is one of environmental significance.
“They think of us as an irrigation channel. I believe they think of the whole Murrumbidgee as a channel to send water down. But we have all the environmental attributes for a lot less water. We have hundreds of species of birds nesting in the lagoons.”
This attitude of the water usage of the Yanco Creek system is more disturbingly reflected in the business case Modernising Supply Systems for Effluent Creeks. In this business case, the report states that 14.4 GL would be removed from the Yanco Creek system.
The report goes on to say: “However, it is expected that more detailed simulation of river losses and representation of irrigation demand in parts of the benchmark is likely to indicate that further savings can be made … the data shows current transmission losses are about 90GL.”
However, YACTAC members have expressed the concern that the current NSW Government definition of a water ‘loss’ is not accurate.
Moreover, the business case makes no attempt to study the environmental impacts of such water losses, stating “the proposed project is not an ‘environmental works and measures’ initiative, which would have the aim of achieving the Basin Plan’s environmental outcomes at specific sites using less environmental water than would otherwise have been required.”
“The business case, therefore, does not attempt to create a revised environmental watering regime or outcome for the creek system and so does not address ecosystem targets and outcomes,” Mr Crawford said. According to Mr Crawford, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and function of the Yanco Creek system.
“Everyone seems to assume that when you say environmental that is fulfils a social, cultural and spiritual need. It’s different; it’s a very underrated component. It’s nothing about extraction; we’re not an irrigation area. We’re a creek, with all the attributes of a creek.”
The greatest cause for concern is not each individual SDL project, but how the projects will synergise with each other.
While the regulator business case stresses the need for constant flows for the survival of waterbirds and the breeding habits of fish, the effluent creeks business case advocates for the removal of a substantial amount of water from the Yanco-Colombo Creek system.
If the projects are implemented in tandem, the outcome for the creek becomes more insecure. In addition, the business cases stress the need for environmental flows to the Mid-Murrumbidgee wetlands, while understating the significance of the wetlands created by the Yanco-Colombo Creek system.
“I understand that more water needs to be put back into the Murray Darling Basin, but you’re going to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Cr Fahey said. “It’s the underhanded nature of these processes that has me very concerned.”