| Contents | Background
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A general community discussion meeting on environmental objectives for the Gwydir River catchment, held at Bingara on 25 March 1998, was attended by more than 150 people. Additionally, 31 formal submissions were received for the catchment. Environmental objectives for water reform were also discussed at a meeting in Moree for Aboriginal members of the catchment community.
Of those who attended the Bingara meeting and made written submissions, a clear polarisation of attitude was apparent between irrigators and non-irrigators, although a wide range of views was expressed overall. Both irrigators and non-irrigators held strong views on river flow objectives and other complex river health issues.
The submissions highlighted the diverse range of uses and values of the Gwydir River catchment. Of most concern was the value of these waters in supporting healthy aquatic ecosystems, including biodiversity and nature conservation. The next most-listed values related to the use of the river for drinking water, household uses, primary and secondary contact recreation, irrigation, stock-watering and industry. People noted their awareness of the river's significance in terms of its visual and spiritual amenity for the community, including its importance to Aboriginal people.
Meetings and submissions drew attention to the lack of specific objectives incorporating traditional Aboriginal spiritual, cultural and resource-use values, and requested proper recognition of these values in river planning. The Kamilaroi people had specific issues to raise, recommendations to make and knowledge to contribute. For example, common concerns included:
Aboriginal communities also asked to be involved in river management decisions (which relates to their traditional responsibilities in managing river health) and called for access to clean rivers for cultural activities.
Within the written submissions, there was support for basic river health and basic or advanced human uses. While these objectives were supported at the Bingara and Moree meetings for the Gwydir River, people favoured retaining the status quo for other waterways. Those people who supported action to ensure basic river health and suitability of water for basic or advanced human uses felt that this would produce benefits in the areas of biodiversity, education, recreation, improved community health and quality of life.
Several people commented, particularly at the meeting, that information in the Government's discussion papers (EPA 1997) did not have sufficient information on water quality to allow them to make decisions on water management. Most people, however, appeared able to choose the water values and uses they wanted protected in the future, based on what they already used and valued the river for in their local area.
Some people at the meeting indicated satisfaction with the river's health and questioned the need for concern about salinity. Others voiced serious concerns that the existing water quality was poor, and claimed that the water was not fit for either drinking or recreation.
There was an overriding concern in both the written submissions and the meeting about the cost of implementing and managing the water quality options-in particular, the question of who would pay.
The following specific river flow problems were identified:
Several groups at the meeting raised concerns about a perceived lack of effective management of river flows-particularly in relation to equity of access, timing of releases, and monitoring of water use. Concerns about town water usage, water temperature, and lack of knowledge about flows were also recorded.
Support for priority river flow objectives extended to all options, with most people supporting the objective of maintaining natural rates of change in river levels, and making a strong call for more research.
Minimising the effects of storages on water quality was the next favoured objective, followed by protecting pools in dry times, protecting important rises in water levels, maintaining natural flow variability and making water available for unforeseen events.
The meeting recorded most support for protecting pools in dry times, maintaining natural flow variability and making water available for unforeseen events.
There was general dissatisfaction about the lack of detailed information on flows. Some people speculated that the government and management bodies might lack the will to take necessary action. One person communicated a 'total distrust of agencies imposing interim suggestions as long-term rules'.
However, the objectives were seen as beneficial in both economic and environmental areas. Many people cited a reduction in erosion as a major benefit. It was generally agreed that proposed action could help to restore the ecosystem (particularly of the wetlands), to control weeds and to improve farm efficiency.
Many people's concerns about the objectives related to the cost of implementing them or to the possible effect on irrigators in terms of lost production and economic hardship. Many who rely on irrigation felt that their livelihood would be at risk as a result of implementing the objectives.
In the submissions received there were specific strong recommendations to:
Further proposals related to sharing of costs, revegetation with native species on river banks and steep slopes, cancelling 'sleeper' licences, controlling bore and dam construction, and establishing the water-quality and flow needs of all sectors of the community.
Numerous major issues that could need remedial or maintenance action to achieve a healthy and viable river system were identified for the Gwydir River catchment. Comments on some of these are included as part of Section 3. The following is a summary of proposals for priority action:
Some of the above issues already receive considerable attention and resources. For example, communities are undertaking important on-the-ground projects through the Catchment Management Committee, Landcare and other programs. The NSW Government has established and is funding programs such as Blue-Green Algae Management, the Floodplain Management Program, Wetlands Action and the Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program.
At the Commonwealth level, programs are being funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Landcare and the Natural Heritage Trust.
Major water quality management programs already in place for the catchment include:
Where programs and projects such as these already exist, they should be recognised and, as far as possible, incorporated in the river management plan.
This page was published 1 May 2006