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Rivers & Wetlands

Healthy rivers and wetlands are essential for native wildlife, Aboriginal cultural heritage, local communities, and a diverse range of industries, from floodplain grazing to tourism and recreational fishing.

The rivers and wetlands of NSW are under extreme stress after decades of catchment degradation, water-course diversion, unsustainable water extraction, and climate change.

Over the past century, the Murray-Darling Basin has experienced a dramatic decline in wetlands, waterbirds and native fish populations due to a massive increase in the volume of water extracted for irrigation.

Meanwhile, coastal rivers, wetlands and estuaries have suffered from a lack of oversight and inadequate water-sharing plans, which has put vulnerable coastal environments and wildlife at risk.

In response to these threats, we continue to provide a vital voice for nature in water policy processes at the state and federal level.

Opposing Floodplain Harvesting

Floodplain harvesting is the practice of building earthworks and dams to divert water flowing overland into private storage and away from natural waterways. This stops billions of litres of water reaching our rivers and flowing downstream.  It has been effectively unregulated, and many say it is illegal. The NSW Government is seeking to regulate floodplain harvesting, but it is a major concern that they will give away huge amounts of water, without guaranteed downstream flow targets.  

The Nature Conservation Council opposes any allocation of floodplain harvesting rights without adequate protections and guarantees for our rivers, wetlands and downstream communities.  

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Water & Climate Court Case

The Nature Conservation Council has commenced a world-first legal action to protect rivers and wetlands.

The case being brought in the NSW Land & Environment Court seeks to ensure future climate change is taken into account when decisions about water sharing plans are being made. 

Scientific modelling suggests rain and runoff in the Murray-Darling Basin will declined, that patterns of rainfall will change, and droughts will become more severe. The last severe drought, which followed soon after the Millennium Drought, saw record low inflows into many dams. 

Making decisions on water without taking future climate change into account is foolhardy and has serious consequences for environmental health and water sharing within the catchment and for floodplains and downstream rivers, wetlands and communities. 

It results in too much water being given to irrigators and too little being left for the environment and communities. Dams will empty too fast, dangerously depleting vital drought reserves. 

If our legal action succeeds, decision makers will have to start taking climate change into account when setting catchment-wide extraction limits and environmental flow rules. 

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Save Menindee Lakes

The Menindee Lakes is an outback oasis in western NSW that is under threat.

The NSW Government planned to cut off the Lakes from the Darling-Baaka River causing an ecological catastrophe.  They have backed away from their plans for the moment, and good rains have filled the river system and the Menindee Lakes, reviving the area.

The Menindee Lakes is an important connected wetland system on the Darling-Baaka River in the far west of NSW. It is a vital native fish nursery for the entire Murray-Darling Basin and has more bird species visit than Kakadu. 

However, the Menindee Lakes are under threat. Excessive irrigation in NSW and Queensland is taking too much water out of the river and its tributaries, leaving too little water to flow into the Menindee Lakes. Bone-dry river beds and mass fish kills in the lower Darling River are a signal that the lakes and the river are in crisis.

The Menindee Lakes should not be re-engineered. Instead, we need to revive the Menindee Lakes by having more water flow down the Darling-Baaka River.

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Buyback More Water

The cheapest and most effective way to revive our rivers and wetlands is to buy back water licences from willing sellers and let that water flow down our rivers.

Unfortunately, the federal government has banned any further buybacks of water, even though the targets set under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have not been met.  Instead, a variety of infrastructure projects is being funded, but these often just benefit irrigators and increase water use.

If we are serious about reviving our rivers and wetlands then water licence buybacks should resume.

Lifeblood Alliance

Lifeblood Alliance Logo

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW is part of the Lifeblood Alliance which seeks to restore natural flows to the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Lifeblood Alliance is a network of environmental, Indigenous and community groups committed to keeping the rivers, wetlands and aquifers of the Murray-Darling Basin healthy for the benefit of current and future generations.  

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