Murray River (NSW)
Community comment on the objectives

| Contents | Background | Consultation | Objectives | WQOs | RFOs | Glossary | Bibliography | Map | At a Glance |


A community discussion meeting for the Murray River catchment (NSW) was held on 19 March 1998 at Holbrook and was attended by over 40 people. Eleven written submissions were received from a range of interested people and groups. An Aboriginal discussion meeting in Wagga Wagga on 8 April concerning water reforms attracted people from several Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and Murray communities. Further comments were received from a meeting on 27 May in Deniliquin organised by local people.

The environmental objectives proposed in the discussion paper (EPA 1997) and on which comments were sought did not apply to the Murray River, its floodplain or rivers such as the Edwards, which depend on inflows from the Murray, because objectives for this area are being set by an interstate process. However, comments relating to these rivers were received and are summarised below for completeness.

Value of the water resource

The meetings and submissions identified a diverse range of uses and values for the Murray River catchment (NSW). These revolved around the enjoyment and economic benefits of maintaining a healthy river system which supports various industries in the long term. The values and uses most noted in submissions and at meetings were biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems, nature conservation, native riverbank vegetation, reliable supply of water for all valued water uses, swimming and boating, fishing for food or recreation, irrigation, domestic household water use and access, drinking water, spiritual values, and Aboriginal cultural links to rivers, lakes and wetlands.

General comments

The issues raised in comments on the environmental objectives proposed in the discussion paper (EPA 1997) can be summarised as follows:

Aboriginal people said that they felt traditional responsibilities for managing river health, and requested effective involvement in water management decisions through appropriate mechanisms. They wanted access to clean rivers for swimming, for collecting aquatic foods that are safe to eat, and for other cultural needs. They expressed concern about the lack of respect for Aboriginal cultural values, needs and places, and about the decline and threats to aquatic and wetland ecosystems.

Water quality

There was overwhelming recognition that better water quality is needed-better than some people felt was currently being managed or planned for. The lack of water quality protection for people that live downstream is a major concern.

Most written submissions called for a high level of water quality protection; for instance, to protect aquatic ecosystems and people swimming in, and eating fish from, the river. Some submissions recognised the difference between what was desirable in the long term and what may be practical to achieve in the short term. Water quality option 4 in the discussion paper (EPA 1997-basic river health and advanced human uses such as swimming) was the most favoured in written submissions and meetings. Option 3-basic river health and basic human uses-was also supported. Others said that option 2-basic river health-was the minimum needed and noted that maintenance of higher options depended on the beneficiaries being prepared to pay the cost of achieving them.

The meetings and submissions called particularly for improved stormwater and tailwater management in both dryland, urban and irrigation areas; particularly to stop the toxic chemicals (e.g. pesticides) that are currently entering waters, and reduce nutrient-rich, saline and turbid runoff. Dryland and irrigation salinity, water quality impacts of dam releases, and ongoing reduction of septic and sewage pollution were mentioned. Removal of livestock from the riparian zone and providing alternative off-river livestock water supplies was also recommended. Health concerns were raised about drinking water and water contact recreation.

The Murray Catchment Management Committee's Water Quality Working Group, provided a detailed submission which gave 3 basic principles for water quality management:

This working group also supported the need to apply objectives and to manage on a river-reach or zone level, setting locally applicable water quality criteria rather than necessarily universally applying the ANZECC (1992) guidelines. The working group considered that the five suggested river health options proposed in the discussion paper (EPA 1997) to guide the choice of environmental values were too restrictive. In its submission the group defined particular water quality priorities for specific river zones covering both NSW tributaries and areas affected by interstate processes.

Water quality issues raised in submissions or at the meetings in relation to specific tributaries included:

River flows

Each of the river flow objectives (RFOs) gained some support. The objectives considered most important by most groups were: RFOs Maintain wetland and floodplain inundation, Manage groundwater for ecosystems, Protect natural low flows, Minimise the effects of weirs and other structures; then, RFO Protect pools in dry times. RFOs Maintain natural flow variability and Manage water for unforeseen events were also favourably mentioned. Most support in written submissions was for maintaining natural flow variability. Continual flow was also suggested as an objective.

Comments on flows in Murray tributaries and Billabong Creek included:

The following recommendations were made in relation to improving stream flow:

Some concerns were expressed about irrigation restrictions and the transfer of water licences, and that the upper region would be hindered in growing valued crops such as grapes and specialised fruits. For these crops, economic return per megalitre of water used is much higher than for most crops irrigated further down the Murray.

Murray River and other streams affected by interstate processes

No river flow or water quality objectives were proposed for the Murray River and other waterways in its floodplain. Water quality and river flow objectives for the Murray River below Hume Reservoir and the Edwards-Wakool system are being developed by a separate interstate process, which will include further community consultation. In relation to these waterways, the following issues were raised:

Major issues

The process of developing the objectives has brought out the following major issues (not presented in any order) that need action:

These issues should be taken forward by local management committees, relevant government agencies and communities.

Existing programs

Some of the above issues are already receiving considerable attention and resources. Local communities, industry groups and local government are undertaking important on-the-ground activities through Landcare and other projects. Land and water management plans have been developed to address rising watertables, salinisation, water-bogging and other issues in irrigation areas. The cost of implementing these plans is being shared by the State and Commonwealth governments and landholders. People in some dryland regions are also beginning to develop plans that integrate land and water management issues. Greening Australia is working with interested landholders to fence
200 km of streambank along Billabong Creek after identifying sections of the creek where fences are needed. The NSW Government has already put in place and funded many programs, including Blue-Green Algae Management, Carp Assessment and Reduction Program, Waterwise on Farms, Salt Action, Floodplain Management Program, Wetlands Action, the Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program and the Urban Stormwater Management Program.

At the Commonwealth level, funding is in place through the Natural Heritage Trust for Landcare and Rivercare, and through Murray-Darling Basin programs. The Basin Sustainability Program delivers the Natural Resource Management Strategy, which includes the Salinity and Drainage, Algal Management and Floodplain Wetland Management Strategies and the Native Fish Management Plan.

This page was published 1 May 2006