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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.

A lifeline for inland rivers! The Restoring our Rivers Bill 2023 explained

The Federal Government passed legislation in November 2023 that will finally get more water for the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin.  

The Restoring Our Rivers Bill 2023 delivers a vital lifeline for inland rivers ahead of the looming drought. This is thanks to thousands of Australians across the Basin speaking up and demanding action.

For decades, community groups, First Nations leaders, farmers, fishers and environmental groups called on decision makers at state and federal level to reverse the over extraction of water.  

The deadly impact became clear during the 2019 drought, when entire communities ran out of water and 20 to 30 million fish died over a couple of days.  

The communities of inland NSW refuse to allow the Mighty Darling/Baaka River Basin to die without a fight. 

It was the persistence and expertise of voices from all over the Basin that pushed the Albanese opposition to promise to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full before the 2022 federal election.

Then in 2023 the Nature Conservation Council NSW, Environment Victoria, Conservation Council South Australia and Queensland Conservation Council founded the Murray-Darling Conservation Alliance (MDCA).  

Our alliance pushed the Albanese government to stay the course and deliver on their election promise.  

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NSW Online Water Forum 2023

Let’s talk about water!  

We all need it – this continent would be uninhabitable without its ancient rivers, deep aquifers and wetlands bursting with abundant wildlife.  

But inland rivers have taken a hiding in the last 130 years, with unlimited irrigation bringing the Murray-Darling Basin to its knees during the shocking millennial drought.  

Watch the NCC Online Water Forum, featuring:

Aunty Polly Cutmore Gamilaraay Traditional Owner 

Aunty Marlene Weribone Gamilaraay Elder

Aunty Judith Duke Gamilaraay Elder

Tony Windsor Former Independent Member for New England 

Professor Richard Kingsford Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science UNSW 

Professor Stuart Khan School of Civil & Environmental Engineering UNSW 

Elizabeth Farrelly Independent candidate for the NSW Upper House 

Cate Faehrmann MLC NSW Greens MP and spokesperson for water 

Rose Jackson MLC NSW Labor Shadow Water Minister

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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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Macquarie-Cudgegong Environmental Flows Reference Group

The Macquarie Cudgegong Environmental Water Advisory Group is made up of representatives from a range of local interest groups, who provide advice on planning, management and monitoring of water for the environment in the mid and lower Macquarie valley.

NCC has been represented on the Macquarie Cudgegong Environmental Water Advisory Group since it's inception in 2000.

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Inland Rivers Network

NCC is a proud member of the Inland Rivers Network (IRN), a coalition of environmental groups and individuals that has been advocating for healthy rivers, wetlands and groundwater in the Murray-Darling Basin since 1991.

The world's longest blue-green algae bloom in the Darling-Baaka River was a wake-up call for all Australian's that our largest inland river system had serious problems. Decades of over-extraction and over-development of irrigated agriculture on the world's driest inhabited continent has caused long-term damage to our rivers, wetlands, floodplains, native fish, water birds and other wildlife.

The process of reforming how water is managed in Australia commenced from that time.

IRN has been at the table for over 30 years, advocating on behalf of native fish, water birds, First Nations' cultural values and downstream communities in the Basin for a fairer share of water and a return to the natural variability of our inland river systems.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is the outcome of many years of campaigning by communities and conservationists to restore the river system back to health.

NCC will continue to work closely with IRN to advocate for fairer water sharing in NSW, and the full implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Find out more about IRN here online, or by emailing [email protected]