NO guarantees NO regulator say meetings
A three year silence from DOI Water regarding damming the top end of the Yanco Creek has finally been broken.
Having been told that community consultation had already taken place, the communities of the Yanco Creek persisted in their quest to find out with whom did DOI Water supposedly meet.
With community consultation now high on their agenda due to legislative requirements and the proven void in consultation to date, the Director of SDL Projects Tracey MacDonald promised the two meetings hosted by them last week at Jerilderie and Conargo were “just the beginning” of what she hoped would be a rebuilding of community confidence in the department and a fresh start in a relationship that is set to be as lengthy as the creeks themselves.
A watershed of questions came from the 450-plus individuals who turned out to the DOI State Water NSW meetings in a community strong show of thirst for knowledge about the proposed new regulator and how it could impact future flows of the Yanco Creek and its tributaries.
Most of the questions were fielded by Paul Simpson a consultant for DOI Water and Director of SDL Projects Ms Tracey MacDonald.
With an additional 350 recorded apologies DOI Water noted and witnessed that the community cared about their creeks and would not tolerate further impact on the socio-economic nor environmental fronts through potential reduction or entire loss of flow.
Determined community advocate and Mayor of Murrumbidgee Council Ruth McRae pushed the question on the tip of every tongue in the community asking “regardless of community consultation or any efforts to oppose the regulator will the regulator be built? Is this a done deal?”
Country Creek Alliance spokeswoman Helen Mortlock said the answer to this was as “extrapolated and as bent” as the creek suggesting that so long as the community remained diligent in its participation as the project progresses through every phase – between now and 2024 – at any juncture and with enough effort and concern expressed by community at each point (and directed to the correct level of bureaucracy) therein lies the potential that the project may be deemed a ‘No go’ at any of those points – or not.
“ Hence, Cr McRae’s repetition of the same question over three times in an attempt to get a monosyllable response was not forthcoming,” Ms Mortlock said.
To help the community through the many stages of the project DOI Water assigned David Leslie as the Principal Project Officer. Mr Leslie said he accepted that the community had lost faith in the project.
“I fully appreciate there’s going to be a trust deficit that we need to rebuild,” he said.
Mr Leslie maintained there was no plan to stop regular flows in the creek.
“There is no intent to return the Yanco Creek system to an ephemeral system. Not only would that not be good for humans and communities but it would be very harmful for the environment.”
Ms Mortlake said many questions remained unanswered but were tabled for pending feedback to the community in more consultations promised by the Manager for Water Relationships DOI Water Andrew Garrett.
One of those questions was if the regulator were to be built the community continued to express the question could there be an absolute guarantee that the creeks would maintain a regular flow and most crucially not be run dry.
“The answers to such were consistently answered with ‘it is not the intention that the regulator does this’, which only confirmed for the community that the collective cynicism regarding bureaucratic language and mistrust of the government based on interminable poor track records was further justified,” said Ms Mortlock.
Due to this ever increasing lack of confidence a motion for a vote of no confidence was put forward at the close of the Jerilderie meeting by Creek Country Alliance member Jim Muirhead.
Supported with a show of hands from over half the community, with no one against, Mr Muirhead said: “We do not support these two SDL projects due to the inept management of water under the Murray Darling Basin Plan to date.
“Based on past performance politicians and government departments cannot be trusted to implement a fair outcome. They must address the lower lakes, revisit the 2007 Water Act, fix the Darling debacle, the zero water allocations in the Murray and low allocations in the Yanco Murrumbidgee systems.,” he said.
“Our creek communities and very significant ecosystems deserve to survive and not be collateral damage of ticked boxes. We the public of this great nation put this vote of no confidence up and make it known on this day forward we will fight this cause until we have sensible outcomes.”
Ms Mortlock said aside from direct answers being absent on some matters, a Welcome to Country was notably overlooked.
“Irrespective of whether or not to have a Welcome to Country as a whole of government policy it was remiss of DOI Water not to have had one at either meetings in Conargo or Jerilderie as appreciation for the indigenous value of the corridors of the creeks is one of the key values within the community as these creeks are in the centre of what was once the most densely populated regions of NSW,” she said.
“Acknowledgment of this rich indigenous heritage and its demise (in no small part thanks again to government directives) is only just beginning to surface.
“Indigenous community still go ‘out on country’ to reflect, cook, fish, learn and share knowledge and skills of their culture not only with their own but other community in an effort to increase the connection to country for all.
“To remove the impetus for such understanding to grow, by potentially eliminating the flow of the creeks, will be yet another blow and sorry chapter in our governments’ trail of fail regarding our indigenous heritage.”
Ms Mortlock said hand in hand with that, of immense value to the people of the Yanco was their environment and such was expressed loud and clear to all present at the meetings.
“A whole of community approach along the thousand plus kilometres of creek frontage of the Yanco, Colombo and Billabong Creeks have been actively managed to improve the creek corridors (and connected woodlands) through weed eradication, riparian preservation, pest management, flora and fauna research studies, fish studies … to name a few.”
“These have given a clear benchmark so future improvement or decline can easily be recorded if indeed the creeks are facing worst case scenarios beneath the wall of concrete.”
She said such great dedication and commitment made voluntarily though levies contributed by the farming communities of the creeks had raised in excess of $2million dollars.
It was pointed out that such notable financial contributions from a small farming population were an impressive collaborative effort and should be showcased as a remarkable model for sustainable production and preservation practices working in unison.
“These environmental accomplishments are already established and highly applaudable, perhaps even worthy of national acknowledgement. To see these efforts wiped out in the possible closure of the creeks would be nothing but devastating for those who have invested so much not least the destruction of a precious ecosystem valued by all communities of the creeks; fish, bird, animal and human alike,” she said.
It was ‘captured’ by the DOI Water representatives that no other river system or farming community in the MDB has such a commendable proven track record for preservation of their environment.
Further meetings were promised to be hosted in Narrandera, Morundah, Wanganella and Moulamein which will see all the townships addressed along the lengths of the creeks that will be most affected.
Targeted meetings with indigenous individuals and groups are also promised. These meetings are expected to take place February-March 2019.
Creek Country member Gwen McLaughlin and DOI Fisheries representative Luke Pearce presented local school student Christopher Kernaghan with a prize of a fishing rod, tackle and bait box kindly donated by the Ford Family of Coree and Blueys of Albury for his winning efforts in a colouring competition of native platypus that live in the local creeks.
Ms Mortlock encouraged people to join the Alliance as individuals, community groups, council and enterprise to provide an umbrella under which they can all unite and in doing so improve the collective chances as an entity for consultation and representation to government and other parties.
Social media are welcome to find the Creek Country Facebook page as a means to provide a platform to bring those who care for the creeks to one place to impart information, such as upcoming meetings and to share the collective community value for the creeks through individual posts and commentary.
Alternatively contact one of the Alliance members listed below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org: Contacts are Jim Muirhead 0429 576 599, Gwen Mc Laughlin 0427 262 247, Helene Mortlock 0409 029 564.