Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick says water allocation in the Murray-Darling Basin needs to be re-prioritized after aerial photographs reveal vast amounts of water reserved in the private dams of cotton irrigators, as neighbouring communities and water systems run dry.
Senator Patrick traveled to communities throughout western New South Wales, including Tilpa and Brewarrina, where many are running out of water.
“When I flew over Queensland I was sort of shocked by the size of the magnitude of the farms that were below me,” he told NITV News.
“The locals at Brewarrina are fearful they will very shortly run of out of water. They’ve got a weir pool keeping them in supply at the moment, but that is not going to last forever” he said.
“When I was out there I met with the mayor Phil O’Connor and he seemed to think they had about a month or two of water remaining.”
Senator Patrick said water allocation from the Murray-Darling Basin needs to be re-prioritized.
“We need to allocate the water in the basin according to needs and priorities, and of course drinking water has got to be up there as a first priority.”
He is now calling for cotton exports to be banned in an attempt to draw attention to the crisis and the over-extraction by irrigators, introducing a bill in parliament that would impose a ban in three years’ time.
“I’m not against irrigators. What I’m against is the over-allocation. The river is there for everyone to use,” he said.
“Cotton is a water-intensive crop. More than 90 per cent is exported overseas, so in effect, we are exporting water. We live in the driest inhabited continent on the planet and my view exporting water from Australia is not in the national interest.”
It comes as the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee holds a senate estimates hearing into the Murray-Darling Basin plan on Friday, with the MDBA and the Cotton Research and Development Corporation facing questioning.
“Hot weather” cause of mass fish kills, government report
Meanwhile, the government released its interim report into the mass fish deaths across New South Wales.
The independent assessment, released on Thursday, found “hot weather” caused algal blooms which sucked oxygen out of the water and “this was the primary cause of the fish deaths.”
Federal Agriculture and Water Minister, David Littleproud said work would begin immediately to improve fish movement, create an early warning system and commit an extra $3 million for research.
“We need fish to be able to move around the river system,” he said.
“Removing obstacles and creating fishways allows fish to go where conditions are better for them. Fish are an important part of the food chain, providing food for birdlife and other animals.”
Mr Littleproud agreed with the report’s comments the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is the right way to improve the ecology and environment of the Basin.
But the findings are in contrast to a Labor-commissioned expert panel which found serious problems in the management of the river system which led to the fish kills.
It found "serious deficiencies" in governance which "eroded" the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the Water Act.
"Our review of the fish kills found there isn't enough water in the Darling system to avoid catastrophic outcomes," panel chair Professor Craig Moritz said in a statement.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said the "startling" report presented an opportunity to accept that too much water was being siphoned from the system's northern basin and not enough was heading south.
"We stand on the precipice of trashing Australia's biggest river system," he said.