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Sydney Water set to vandalise Wolli Creek Regional Park

Sydney Water is planning to destroy a patch of urban bushland and a sandstone cliff previously earmarked as part of Wolli Creek Regional Park, Earlwood, to build a sewage odour control facility up to 14m high.

The land is the eastern gateway to the park and marks the start of a 4.5km nature walk through the largest remnant of Sydney sandstone vegetation left between Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay.

“It’s a totally unnecessary desecration,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“The odour control unit could be built on another block of land nearby, which would avoid all the horrendous visual impacts of this proposal.”

Wolli Creek Regional Park was established on land previously reserved for the M5 motorway. It was protected as a nature and recreation reserve after decades of campaigning by the local community and the Wolli Creek Preservation Society.

“More than 300 hectares of precious urban bushland is lost every year in Sydney, [1] often for infrastructure like this odour control unit,” Mr Gambian said.

“We can’t go on like this forever or there will be nothing left. That means we can’t always take the easy option when planning critical infrastructure like this.”

While the block of bushland is relatively small – just 120sq/m – it occupies a very prominent place at the start of the 4.5km walking track that is used by thousands of people every year.

“The COVID-19 experience has shown us how precious and irreplaceable bushland and open space in our cities is,” Mr Gambian said.

“The government’s own National Parks and Wildlife Service’s promotes Wolli Creek Regional Park as a ‘precious pocket of bushland in Sydney’. [2]

“We accept that the OCU is a necessary piece of state Infrastructure, but there is an alternative site.”

NCC and the Wolli Creek Preservation Society are calling on Water Minister Melinda Pavey to direct Sydney Water to reconsider its plans and find an alternative with much less impact on an iconic nature reserve.

The groups have set up a petition that will be presented to the minister soon. 


[1] See sheet two of the NSW Woody Vegetation Change 2017-18 spreadsheet, vegetation loss for the Greater Sydney Local Land Services Area over 10 years.

[2] NPWS website, Wolli Creek Regional Park, 2021.



For a more detailed description of the proposal, its impacts and alternatives, visit the Wolli Creek Preservation Society webpage here.  


To Water Minister Melinda Pavey

We, the undersigned, call on you to intervene on Sydney Water’s planned location for a sewage Odour Control Unit (OCU), a large, intrusive piece of industrial infrastructure, at the eastern gateway to the Wolli Creek valley and across the popular Two Valley Trail.

We value highly the Wolli valley, its bushland and its heritage. Our objection is not to the OCU itself but to the insensitive and unnecessary location of the unit when there are better alternatives.

Our urban bushland areas are where we walk, rest and play. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the popularity of the 4.5km walking track through the Wolli Creek valley has soared to 250 per cent of its pre-COVID level.

Residents of the surrounding suburbs and Greater Sydney have flocked to quality local recreation and environmental experiences.

Sydney Water’s proposal locates the OCU at the entry to the Two Valley Trail, cutting into a natural sandstone cliff-face and destroying bushland.

It will also be an ugly intrusion too close to a state heritage-listed aqueduct.

This plan will ruin forever the striking entry point to the visitor’s experience of this unique place and seriously damage Sydney Water‘s reputation for environmentally sensitive works.

Minister, it does not have to be this way. There is a suitable alternative site nearby.

Sydney Water and the NSW Government can adopt the alternative, abandon a plan that would severely mar the start of the Two Valley Trail and the nearby heritage aqueduct, keep the bush that the local community has advocated to protect for 30 years, and complete the Wolli Creek Regional Park, promised 20 years ago.

Let the floodwaters flow to replenish the Darling-Baaka and revive river communities

The NSW Government is putting town water supplies and fish stocks on the Darling-Baaka River at risk by telling irrigators at the top of the system they can take river water virtually at will.

Water Minister Melinda Pavey and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment have in recent days advised irrigators in the Barwon River catchment, including the Gwydir and Namoi sub-catchments, that there is ample water and to take what they want.     

“The Minister should not let big irrigators at the top of the system syphon off this precious water for private profit,” NCC Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

“These rains may be the last chance for many months to top up town water supplies, like those at Collarenebri, and replenish billabongs and other wetlands, like the Menindee Lakes.  

“This water should be used for the common good and for the health of the river itself. 

“Significant rainfall this month in the northern basin could flush the Barwon and Darling-Baaka river systems for the first time in months and replenish town water supplies, which would be an absolute godsend this close to Christmas.

“But that is being put at risk by the department and the minister urging big irrigators to take what they want from the first flows. 

“The ICAC report found the department had failed to strike the right balance between the needs of irrigators, towns and the environment.

“This shows that the department has still not mended its ways. However, this does present an opportunity for department to show that it is taking on board the advice of the state’s top anti-corruption watchdog.

“As we are told by BOM, there will be more rain events likely over the summer months, and if we are not sharing the welcome rains right across the state, then the Government will be acting outside of the legislation. There are too many straws in the glass and it must stop now. 

“We urge Minister Pavey to immediately impose an embargo on irrigation take in all tributaries of the Barwon-Darling-Baaka, to ensure town water supplies downstream, environmental recovery and connectivity of the river right through to the confluence in Wentworth.”

Government abdicates responsibility for flood water harvesting in the Gwydir

The government has told landholders in the Gwydir to seek their own legal advice before diverting and capturing floodwaters that are likely to spill over the river’s banks in coming days. 

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment issued a statement at 6.30pm yesterday saying: 

There are reports of heavy rain in the Gwydir region which could lead to overland flows.  

Due to the disallowance of the government’s regulation amendment, which temporarily exempted certain floodplain works from licencing requirements, any landholder considering floodplain harvesting during this event may wish to seek their own legal counsel. [1] 

“Water authorities have basically abdicated their responsibility saying they don’t know what the rules are and advising landholders to get their own legal advice on whether to divert and capture floodwaters in private dams or not,” said Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian.  

"The NSW Parliament recently disallowed floodplain harvesting regulations and the Crown Solicitor told the government the practice was probably illegal under the Water Management Act unless a landholder has development consent and a water access licence, which many don’t. [2]  

"The government may have been annoyed at the disallowance of their regulation, but that does not mean they can ignore the parliament's decision and let irrigators choose their own adventure.   

“The department should actively protect flood waters from illegal capture so water can reach the Darling-Baaka River, which has stopped flowing at Bourke and is a puddle at Wilcannia. 

"Water that does not reach our rivers is just as important as water that gets sucked out of our rivers by irrigation pumps."  



[2] Floodplain harvesting likely illegal under NSW water management act, crown solicitor warns, The Guardian, 8-12-20   


Troy Grant appointment further undermines public confidence in water management in NSW

The National Party has taken cronyism to new heights with the appointment of a former NSW party leader as Interim Inspector-General of Water Compliance. [1] 

“They’re not even pretending anymore,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“Troy Grant was in charge when some of the worst policy decisions that favour big irrigators at the expense of communities, farmers and nature downstream.

“Fresh from stinging criticism from ICAC about water management in NSW, the federal government has appointed the fox to be in charge of the hen house.

“The NSW Nationals have had a hyper-partisan role in water politics, their finger in every instance of water mismanagement and have been attacking other states. This is an entirely inappropriate appointment.

“Downstream communities will suffer the consequences of their mismanagement for decades to come. 

“The public can have no faith that Mr Troy will be an independent, impartial and fearless watchdog when he is so compromised by his close ties to the dodgy past decisions.

“This appointment was an opportunity to restore some confidence in the governance of our precious inland water supplies. 

“This hyper-partisan appointment confirms the worst fears of many - that water policy in NSW is still captured by the industry and their political mates.” 


[1] Former deputy premier to head revamped Murray-Darling compliance role, ABC, 16-12-20

Premier Berejiklian, please the save Menindee Lakes – Kakadu of the south

The Nature Conservation Council welcomes Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s decision to visit Menindee Lakes today to see first-hand the impact water management decisions are having on local communities and ecosystems.

Ms Berejiklian’s visit coincides with the launch of the Nature Conservation Council’s Save Menindee Lakes Campaign, which aims to restore water flows to the lakes to support local communities and millions of water birds and fish.

“The Menindee Lakes is an outback oasis in western NSW and it is under threat,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“The NSW Government plans to cut off the Lakes from the Darling-Baaka River, which would be a social, economic and ecological catastrophe.  

“I applaud the Premier’s for taking the time to see this ecological wonder first-hand. I hope she has time to listen to the concerns of local people.

“When I visited Menindee last month, local people were clearly distressed that the Darling-Baaka River and the Menindee Lakes were being slowly killed by poor water management.

“I hope that after hearing local concerns, Ms Berejiklian will reconsider her government’s decisions to bleed the lakes dry.

“These lakes have been called the Kakadu of the south because when they are full they support millions of waterbirds and fish and are teeming with life.

“But today, most of the lakes are bone dry. Too much water is being taken out of the river upstream for irrigation so there is not enough for the river and the lakes.

“Now the NSW Government and big irrigators are planning engineering works to ensure Menindee Lakes drain as fast as they fill.

“This would be a disaster for nature and for communities that rely on the lakes for their livelihoods and recreation, especially the Traditional Owners, the Barkandji people.”


Basin plan delays are killing our rivers

New Queensland and ACT water ministers must hold firm against NSW and Victorian attempts to delay water recovery at tomorrow’s Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting.

“NSW continues to drag its feet on proper measurement, metering and monitoring of irrigation in the northern basin, while downstream communities, traditional owners and native fish continue to suffer,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“There are too many straws in the glass. The river ecosystems simply cannot sustain increasing extraction.”

Mr Gambian said regulation of floodplain harvesting in NSW must ensure environmental impacts of diversion works are assessed. 

“If water cannot get to rivers, or too much water is taken from rivers, downstream communities will suffer. Rivers die from the bottom up,” he said. 

”Minco must decide whether NSW floodplain harvesting licences will exceed statutory limits in the Basin Plan. Licensing water that doesn’t exist will only exacerbate the problems with the Basin Plan. 

“Environmental ‘offsets’ of projects like the Menindee Lakes water-saving project will not deliver real water savings and will kill the largest living wetland in the middle of the Murray-Darling Basin, contravening several international conventions. 

“Minco ministers must put more emphasis on preservation of ecosystems under threat of changing climate and unbridled growth in extraction.

“We are facing extinction level events across multiple species and unless we support our lifeblood, keep our rivers healthy, we will create a basin which no longer supports life. 

“We also have a duty to protect our environment for all our futures. We will be watching very closely and hoping the Ministers choose action, not more delays.”

Only Coalition hides from Murray-Darling water transparency bill

The NSW Parliament narrowly rejected a water transparency bill today, with all parties other than the government voting for the bill, introduced by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.

The bill proposed to force all members of parliament to disclose water licences, and also to provide a transparent register of all corporations and individuals engaged in trading water.

Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said: “Water management in this state has failed the inland rivers and wetlands of NSW and the many people who rely on them.

“This bill was a crucial first step towards transparency, and the government has failed even this.

“It is fundamental that we should know who is buying and selling our water, and whether members of parliament are among the few benefiting from decisions that have decimated our rivers and downstream communities.“

In 2004, all the state governments and the federal government agreed to implement a transparent water register, under the National Water Initiative.

“16 years after promising to implement a transparent water register, the government has again chosen to delay this important reform.”


After passing in the upper house, the bill was voted down 45 to 41 today, with only government MPs opposing the bill, and Labor, Greens, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and Independent MPs all supporting the bill.

NSW Parliament has chance to disallow government sponsored water theft

The NSW Conservation Council calls on all upper house members to vote today to disallow Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s floodplain harvesting regulation. 

“The Parliament has a chance today to act as an effective check-and-balance”.

“This was a reprehensible deal by the Nationals to let irrigators intercept unlimited amounts of water for free. 

Melinda Pavey’s “Exemptions for Floodplain Harvesting” Regulation was issued on February 7th, 2020, and granted an exemption from the Water Management Act, allowing irrigators who had built illegal channels and levees to intercept and store water for free, before it reaches rivers.[1]  

Independent MLC Justin Field today introduced a motion to disallow the floodplain harvesting regulation, which Parliament is likely to vote on this evening.

“First the Nationals over-allocated river water, which stopped the Darling from flowing. Now they’re giving away water before it can even reach the river. 

“Allowing floodplain harvesting is one the greatest transfers of natural resources into private hands in the history of Australia.”

“Floodplain harvesting is killing our rivers. It needs to be reined in, not given a blanket exemption.

“Giving more free water to cotton irrigators is a recipe for more fish kills and widespread blue-green algae.

[1] Water Management (General) Amendment (Exemptions for Floodplain Harvesting) Regulation 2020, issued February 7th, 2020.

Morrison Coalition Government kills the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

The Federal Government’s decision to ban water buy-backs from willing sellers in the Murray Darling Basin ensures the Basin Plan’s 2024 environmental targets will not be met. 

“Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt’s announcement today is the death knell of the Basin Plan,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“The change means the Basin Plan must rely solely on engineering solutions to fulfil its aims, which just sets up the Plan for failure.

“Numerous studies have shown water buy-backs are the fastest and most cost-effective way to make the rivers flow again.

“They have also found engineering works are more expensive and return less water to the river while having the perverse effect of stimulating demand from big irrigators and pushing up the price of water. [1]

“Our river systems are in a fight for their lives. Banning water buy-backs means the water authorities are being pushed into the ring with one hand tied behind their backs.

“The winners from this senseless move will be big irrigators who are effectively dictating terms to the government to continue over-extracting water for private profit.

“The losers are the regional communities, native fish and wetlands, Indigenous peoples and all Australians who love our rivers and want them to flow free.

“The government should buy back licences from the north of the basin — from willing sellers — where more water is allocated than can be sustainably delivered,” he said.

“It must vastly improve modelling and monitoring of flows to avoid massive discrepancies like those identified by the Wentworth Group yesterday, and must also make the ownership and trading of water rights totally transparent.

“This move will put struggling native fish populations at further risk and undermines the purpose of the Basin plan — to recover an over-extracted river system to sustainable levels of health.”


[1] Recovering water for the environment in the Murray-Darling: farm upgrades increase water prices more than buybacks, The Conversation, 1-9-2020