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Water rorting continues in the Murray-Darling Basin aided and abetted by the NSW Nationals

August 11, 2017 - 00:15 -- Admin

And local government and commercial interests in the Murray-Darling Basin have the hide to cry that they are water deprived and should be allowed to dam and divert water from the Clarence River catchment until that coastal system is a pale shadow of its vibrant self.The Guardian, 4 August 2017:The New South Wales regional water minister, Niall Blair, has quietly granted himself the power to approve illegal floodplain works retrospectively.A Wentworth Group scientist, Jamie Pittock, has accused the NSW government of actively undermining the Murray-Darling basin plan as revelations have continued about the state government’s management of the river system.Since Four Corners report raised allegations of water theft and secret meetings between a senior NSW water bureaucrat and a small number of irrigators,Blair is under increasing pressure over his water responsibilities.This followed Daily Telegraph reports that the Nationals MP had been urging his Liberal colleague, the environment minister, Gabrielle Upton, to change the Barwon-Darling water-sharing plan retrospectively to favour large irrigators. He said the change was needed because of an error in the rules.It has now come to light that Blair gazetted a Barwon-Darling valley floodplain management plan which gives him power to approve flood works built illegally even if they do not comply with requirements prior to the plan.Under clause 39 of the new Barwon-Darling valley plan, a flood work that does not comply can be approved if “in the minister’s opinion” it is for an access road, a supply channel, a stock refuge or an infrastructure protection work.A spokesman for WaterNSW said three relevant applications from the Barwon-Darling region had been received since the change but none had yet been approved.The NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham called on the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to remove the water portfolio from the National party after the regulation changes came to light.“This is disgraceful example of the National party giving away free water to their big irrigator mates,” Buckingham said. “Many of these areas are so flat that even a 10 to 20cm bank can divert a huge amount of water into an irrigation dam and away from natural waterways.“It’s a massive gift of water to the big irrigators. If we want to recover the water in the future then taxpayer will have to hand over huge amounts of compensation for what were illegal constructions.”A spokeswoman for Blair said the gazettal was a “significant legacy issue” required to create a process where unapproved works could be properly and transparently assessed. She said to be considered, works must not have been previously refused and would still need to be assessed under certain criteria. “Supply channels are one of the types of existing works that clause 39 indicates that we will accept application for,” the spokeswoman said. “Just because they are existing, doesn’t mean that they will be approved, just that they can apply. This approach is being rolled out through all floodplain management plans.”Pittock, an associate professor in the Fenner school of environment and society at the Australian National University, said the revelations showed NSW was systematically white-anting the Murray Darling plan.“The ‘rule error’ and other questionable dealings between wealthy irrigators, government officials and politicians in NSW highlight how the intent of the basin plan can be frustrated by those hostile to its implementation at the state level,” he told Guardian Australia.“Changes of regulations in NSW have allowed irrigators to take erstwhile environmental flows by allowing greater pump capacity and earlier extraction based on river heights such that commonwealth-purchased environmental water in Queensland in not ‘shepherded’ through New South Wales to the lower Murray.“Consequently towns like Broken Hill, pastoralists and Aboriginal communities, as well as the environment, have been starved of water.