Yanco-Colombo regulator possible cause for concern

As part of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, a regulator has been proposed for the Yanco-Colombo creek system.

The future of the Yanco-Colombo creek system has been the subject of discussion since the annual meeting of the Yanco Creek and Tributaries Advisory Council (YACTAC) last Wednesday.

YACTAC Executive Officer,Tanya Thompson, who organised the meeting, said YACTAC expected that the most likely outcome would be the creation of a new regulator. This is one of three potential supply measure programs.

While nothing is set in stone yet, as the programs are still at the point of community consultation, the possibility of the regulator is the outcome that seems to be causing the most agitation. Yanco landowner and former member of YACTAC Sam Trinca raised concerns about the potential regulator.

“It seems like a funny way to save 10 to 15 GL. They could have bought it on the open market without the engineering project. The regulator doesn’t have any gauge of consumptive water. It has a very large negative effect on the communities of Yanco. You can see why people get so distrustful.”

Mr Trinca was also concerned about the effect the regulator would have on drought-affected communities.

“It’s almost cruel to do this in a time of drought. It’s politically and emotionally tone-deaf.

“They’re talking about having resources available for depression, counsellors, and then they’re shoving this down people’s throats.”

Currently there are around 160 individual businesses along the Yanco-Colombo creek system that have water licenses for the creek.

“They are concerned that it is reverting to a natural system. A natural system would see the creeks dry up in summer,” Ms Thompson explained.

She said the Yanco Creek had been ‘regulated’ in some capacity or another for roughly 150 years. Due to the diversion of water from the Murrumbidgee, the Yanco-Colombo creek system now flows all year round.

The bulk of the water used by license holders was utilised for stock and domestic purposes. A smaller amount is used for irrigation.

The concern raised by YACTAC, among others, is that the regulator would return the Yanco-Colombo system back to a wet-dry system. That would mean that in the summer (and in drought years) the creeks would dry up.

“Because it has been a system that has had continuous flow for so long, the system now has endangered species that wouldn’t be there in a wet-dry system,” Ms Thompson said.

The Southern Bell Frog, along with several fish species, have become established in the Yanco-Colombo Creek system. The Southern Bell Frog is classified as a vulnerable species.

“Because the system has been left wet, they’ve become breeding grounds. If they dry out, all these species will disappear. These are wetlands of significant value, there are bird breeding grounds. All of those would be compromised by the rules around the regulator,” Ms Thompson said.

The possible environmental impacts were a point of concern raised by Mr Trinca as well.

“At what latitude does the environment start? And why do we not count?” Mr Trinca asked.

Through Ms Thompson’s work, last week’s meeting was thrown open to the public and representatives from the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), the NSW Irrigators Council (NSWIC), the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), WaterNSW, the DPI – Fisheries and the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations were present to speak to the public and answer any concerns.

“I wanted it to be an educational forum,” Ms Thompson said. She said she was concerned that there was misinformation and ‘scared people’ as a result.

The Murray Marling Basin Plan involves recovering 2,750 GL of water across the entire basin, thanks to revised guidelines known as sustainable diversion limits (SDL).

“Currently they’re being put forward by the NSW government through Water NSW and the DPI,” Ms Thompson explained.

NSW is responsible for recovering 1,310 GL, with 965 GL already recovered.

“When the MDBP first started, there were a lot of water buybacks and then people realised that they were decimating towns,” Ms Thompson said.

“The SDLs are about looking at ways of taking water out of the system that is not being used efficiently, and being smarter about how water is used across the state. That might mean upgrading infrastructure, for example.”

Currently, the Yanco-Colombo creek system is a proposed site for three potential supply measure programs.

“They put forward preliminary business cases to see how they could use water more efficiently. They put forward three for the Murrumbidgee and they are all at Yanco.”

The three programs are the modernisation of effluent creeks; the implementation of a computer aided river management (CARM) system for the Murrumbidgee and the creation of a new regulator on the Yanco Creek.

“CARM has already been done in a lot of areas,” Ms Thompson explained.

A CARM system would allow for more efficient monitoring of water usage. The modernisation of effluent creeks would involve a number of measures, including infrastructure upgrades, and changes to river operation rules. All the proposed projects are projected to create an SDL adjustment of between 10 and 20 GL.

Under the current MDBP, the states have until 2024 to complete their SDL projects.

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