The NT Government has recently released new plan that would allow big business to take huge amounts of water for cotton, and mining through ‘floodplain harvesting’ – taking wet season flows from our rivers and floodplains.
The Northern Territory is known around the world for its iconic natural treasures, including our free-flowing rivers. The government’s draft policy would lead to a rush of new dams on floodplains, meaning that massive amounts of water would be taken from river systems such as the Daly, Roper, and Katherine – threatening environmental and cultural values, as well as fishing, tourism, and our Top End lifestyle.
The NT Government are now asking the public to have their say on this plan. This is our chance to tell the Fyles Government why we want to guarantee the health of our rivers and floodplains and rule out plans to take more water from our rivers and allow dams. Submissions for this close Monday 9 January 2023.
Recently, we had independent policy experts on floodplain harvesting, Maryanne Slattery and Bill Johnson, who research water matters and provide expert advice on water policy and management, on an exclusive webinar to give information and advice on the new draft policy.
Use our online tool to tell the Fyles Government why you want them to guarantee the health of our rivers and floodplains and rule out plans to take more water from our rivers and dams.
Like more details? If you want to write a more detailed, personalised submission, you can listen to a recent webinar from our friends at Slattery and Johnson (below), download their submission guide and send your submission to WaterSecurity.NTG@nt.gov.au.
We need a different approach – one that works to keep our Territory rivers special. Let’s keep the Territory’s rivers flowing.
Territorians like you have been telling the Northern Territory Government for years that our water laws are fundamentally broken. From a huge water licence being overturned at Larrimah, to a secret government memo revealing the Roper River could run dry, to bending the rules to allow a massive water licence at Singleton Station to go ahead, water management in the Territory is nothing short of a national shame. But the concerns of everyday Territorians like you have been ignored.
But last week, the Northern Territory Government went too far. They released the long-awaited draft water allocation plan for the Beetaloo Basin, which will hand out more water to Big Business than ever before in the Territory’s history – equivalent to half of Sydney Harbour per year. This could put at risk our aquifers and iconic rivers such as the Roper and Daly systems.
Now, some of the most eminent water experts from across the country have intervened to call on the Chief Minister to stop the destruction of our waterways in favour of Big Business. They single out the draft water allocation plan for the Beetaloo Basin as “particularly poor and regressive”, but also raise a raft of issues with where our water management is heading in the Northern Territory. They say what you already know – it’s a broken system.
Professor Sue Jackson, Professor Barry Hart, Professor Quentin Grafton, Professor Marcia Langton, Professor Richard Kingsford, Professor Anne Poelina – these are the some of the biggest names in water in Australia. It’s a watershed moment.
The Hon. Natasha Fyles
Northern Territory Chief Minister
23 November 2022
Dear Chief Minister
Re: Poor practice water planning in the Northern Territory
As a group of Australian water experts, we express our concerns about the Northern Territory’s approach to water planning and regulation. The Northern Territory’s record of water planning does not meet national standards, reflected in recent departures from the principles of national water policy (see attachment).
Progress in rolling out water allocation plans (WAPs) has been extraordinarily and unacceptably slow. As a result, most of the water licenced to industry has been done so outside of a statutory planning process. Further, current licencing primarily addresses needs of individual projects, with insufficient transparent or rigorous assessment of cumulative impacts.
We have considerable concerns about the Contingent Allocation Framework. First, NT’s continued reliance on ‘contingent allocation rules’ over the 95% of the NT not covered by water plans entrenches poor practice and undermines water planning outcomes and processes. We also hold concerns about the use of climatic zones within the framework and the criteria applied to assessing the ‘sustainable yield’ in the Arid zone. The reliance on water storage volumes to calculate sustainable yield is out of step with sustainable groundwater management principles. Other Australian jurisdictions do not use this method to assess sustainable yield. The largely default Contingent Allocation Framework needs to be replaced by a scientifically defensible and transparent practice of comprehensive water planning.
The recently released Georgina Wiso Water Allocation Plan (2022-2030) is particularly poor and regressive. It breaches water planning guidelines of the National Water Initiative (NWI), committed by all jurisdictions and the Australian Government. It risks many significant environmental and Indigenous values. No water advisory committee was put in place, compounding the problem of absent environmental or cultural requirements for water or trigger rules for assessing unacceptable impacts. Potential impacts to groundwater dependent ecosystems are completely overlooked. The scientific and procedural deficiencies identified in the attachment to this letter need to be addressed, supported by a robust program of technical studies, review, and input from the scientific community – in the public domain.
We understand that the NT Government has committed to replacing the Water Act 1992 (NT) with modern legislation by 2026. This is an unacceptable timeframe, not least of all because environmental and cultural values will be compromised by deficient WAPs that are adopted in the interim. We therefore urge you to urgently implement the following:
Professor Sue Jackson, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University
Professor Matthew Currell, School of Engineering, RMIT University
Emeritus Professor Barry Hart, Monash University
Dr Erin O’Donnell, Law School, University of Melbourne
Dr Chris Ndehedehe, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University
Professor Jenny Davis, Research Institute Environment & Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University
Professor Richard Kingsford, Centre for Ecosystem Science, University of NSW and Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists
Professor James Pittock, Australian National University and Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists
Adjunct Professor Brad Pusey, School of Biological Sciences, University of Western Australia
Professor Jeff Connor, Business School, University of South Australia
Professor Marcia Langton, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne
Professor Anne Poelina, Nulungu Research Institute, University of Notre Dame
Associate Professor Rebecca Nelson, Law School, University of Melbourne
Professor Mark Kennard, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University
Dr Emma Carmody, Lawyer, Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists
Professor Lee Godden, Law School, University of Wellington New Zealand
Associate Professor Gavin Mudd, School of Engineering, RMIT University Professor Quentin Grafton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
Amy Sinclair from Nine News Darwin reports from the Daly River, where local members of the community are expressing their concerns about the future health of the river if the Northern Territory Government allows for a new way of water extraction.
These communities rely on the river for culture, livelihoods and lifestyle – but they’re under threat from big business, who want to take huge amounts of water for large-scale operations like cotton. They don’t want to see what happened down south on the Murray Darling happen here.
We need a different approach – one that works to keep our Territory rivers special. Let’s keep the Territory’s rivers flowing.
The Fyles Government’s plan to allow big business to take more water through the controversial practice of extracting life giving flood waters could be devastating for Top End river systems
NT residents and conservationists have issued a warning to the Fyles Government that a new draft government policy to allow surface and flood water to be taken from rivers puts at risk the health of the Territory’s rivers and the people and nature that depend upon them.
The NT Government on Tuesday released the Draft Surface Water Take – Wet Season Flow Policy for public consultation.
This policy opens up the floodgates to dams and sanctions industry taking more water from our rivers and floodplains, according to Territory Rivers: Keep ‘Em Flowing – an alliance of non-government organisations, local communities and scientists working to safeguard the health of Top End rivers.
“Building dams on floodplains to take water in a practice called ‘surface water harvesting’ has been plagued by regulatory failures and has had devastating effects on rivers in the Murray Darling Basin. Why would we want to repeat these mistakes on our Territory rivers?” said Sasha Pavey from Territory Rivers: Keep ‘em Flowing.
“Taking any additional amount of water from the NT’s rivers and floodplains, whether it’s 5%, 20% or any other amount, risks the health of these systems. The science is very clear on this.”
Adelaide River floodplains (above).
Mark Casey, Nauiyu elder who lives on the banks of the Daly River, said:
“Those of us who live alongside these rivers know that healthy floods equal healthy rivers. Wet season river flows and floodplains power the natural cycle of our river systems.
I’m very concerned about the future of our rivers and their floodplains – especially if we see the government allow big business, like cotton, to take billions of litres of extra water that flows in the Wet season.
We can’t allow this ‘surface water take – wet season flows’ to go ahead – whatever they want to call it, it allows for more water to be taken from our river systems. We need to look after our rivers to make sure they’re here for everyone to enjoy in the future. Territorians want our government to get this right from the start.”
Sasha Pavey, from Territory Rivers: Keep ‘em Flowing, said:
“Our rivers are already under pressure. Taking any additional amount of water from the NT’s rivers and floodplains will have disastrous impacts on the future health of these systems – the science is very clear on this. This policy does nothing more than sanction the extraction of more water from our rivers and floodplains. The cotton industry wants more water.
If dams or other diversions are built that stop billions of litres of water from flowing in our rivers and aquifers we put endangered species, tourism businesses, and a multi-million dollar fishing industry at risk.
We’ve seen the disastrous impacts when the promises of ‘floodplain harvesting’ go wrong on the Murray-Darling River. It would be a huge mistake to repeat them in the Territory.
Communities are calling for governments to reset their thinking on rivers – to look at these systems as a whole, to listen to communities on the ground and do more to protect rivers for the long-term.
This starts by ensuring that no extra water is allowed to be taken from our river systems, a commitment to work with communities to build resilient protections and a guarantee to Territorians that our rivers and floodplains will remain healthy into the future.”
Rob McBride, a grazier from NSW, also expressed his concerns:
“There is no doubt that the same cotton industry that has wreaked havoc on the Murray-Darling is spreading north and will push for plans that destroy Territory rivers, floodplains and financial future.
Our family has been sustainably farming for 160 plus years – we respect the river and try to work in partnership with nature. But we’ve also seen the cotton industry explode further upstream, in the process snuffing out livelihoods and communities who act with integrity.
I’d urge anyone in the Northern Territory to look at the total destruction of the Darling River here in NSW, and act early to stop the cotton industry from killing your rivers. If not for yourself, for future generations who may want to walk in your footsteps.”
Last week, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek released the 2021 State of the Environment Report – detailing the poor and deteriorating health of Australia’s natural environment.
If we’ve learned anything from this report, it’s that Territorians like yourself have a unique opportunity to ensure our rivers and environment prosper into the future. But it’s going to take all of us working together to do more.
Nature in Australia is under more pressure than ever – and our rivers, heritage and native species are seriously suffering. It’s also a dire warning that the greatest threat facing rivers is the extraction of surface water and groundwater.
|Here are some key findings from the report:|
|These results are shocking and make it very clear that we need to protect our Territory rivers such as the Daly, Roper, Adelaide and Victoria from big irrigation projects.|
We’re expecting very soon to see the NT Government release details of a dangerous plan that would open up our rivers and floodplains to the same cotton industry players from the dying Murray Darling – putting our Territory fishing, tourism and lifestyle at risk. If this plan goes ahead, it will lead to a rush of new dams on creeks and more water being taken from our rivers.
This report is the wake up call that those in power in Darwin need to listen to – it’s a clear message from experts that it’s now or never.
Tell the NT Government to protect our rivers and floodplains.
The Northern Territory is home to special, healthy, free-flowing rivers. We’ve seen the damage done to the Murray Darling, but it’s not too late to protect our Territory rivers.
Let’s keep our rivers flowing.
The Top End is home to some of the world’s last free-flowing tropical rivers and largely intact savanna landscapes. Nature is truly abundant here, and it’s why so many of us love it.
That’s why I’m so worried about the Gunner Government and cotton industry’s plan to bring the same policies that have slowly strangled the life out of the Murray-Darling Basin to the Territory.
In the coming weeks, the government is expected to release their plan to let big business take more of these natural wet season flows. This is the biggest water policy change in the NT in decades and would give the green light for the extraction of much more water from our already stretched systems for cotton. This could be catastrophic for the health of our rivers and the communities that rely on them.
The Territory’s natural cycle fluctuates between the two extremes – the Dry, and the flood events of the Wet. Territorians know it’s these big water flows along our rivers and floodplains that feed and sustain our vibrant ecosystems. Research on Top End rivers consistently shows that no water is wasted in the system, and that even small reductions in run-off can have big impacts on fish stocks like barramundi. Is this something we are willing to risk?
A war of words is about to be played out in the field of water management, and none of us should be fooled. This plan involves some truly sneaky wordplay – the rebranding of big dams as something good for rivers, for example, or trying to downplay the proportion of water that will be taken from our systems for cotton using largely meaningless percentages.
There is no way this will pass the Territory pub test.
To understand the potential disaster that awaits, we only have to look south at the Murray Darling Basin and the impact of mis-management, large-agribusiness lobbyists and over-allocation of water from the once-mighty river system. The unfettered push by the cotton industry has seen the rivers sucked dry, despite the best of intentions from overwhelmed regulators, leading to the mass fish deaths and dry riverbeds. Murray-Darling locals are urging us not to make the mistakes they did in letting this controversial industry in. Once they start, they don’t stop – until the rivers are a shadow of their once mighty selves.
And that’s in a place where they have invested billions of dollars in water management. We all know how it will end here if they allow this industry to build dams for cotton. Water regulation is pitiable in the Northern Territory, with terrible decisions like the massive water licence granted at Singleton Station making it clear to Territorians just whose interests are being protected when it comes to our precious water. It is no surprise that the Environmental Defenders Office recently declared our water laws as among the worst in the country. Stronger laws, transparent enforcement, a precautionary approach and effective compliance and monitoring are all the basics of modern water management that are not currently up to standard in the Territory.
We need to recognise that our rivers and floodplains are a connected system, and we need to keep dams, bulldozers and pollution away from sensitive areas of river catchments.
We can look after the Northern Territory’s unique ecosystems and the communities that rely on them by adopting a better approach to safeguard our river systems and their catchments. Protecting our rivers needs to be a priority, not an afterthought. A lacklustre attempt to spin this rush to take more water from our rivers isn’t fooling anyone.
Co-Director of the Environment Centre NT Kirsty Howey
Two weeks ago, I contacted you about a big cotton project pushing ahead just outside of Katherine. This industrial-scale facility is the first step towards a large-scale cotton industry which could devastate our Territory rivers.
Well, now it looks like it’s even worse – and so far nothing has been done to stop it.
Satellite imagery showed us last week that land clearing was already underway just outside Katherine, for a massive cotton gin at Tarwoo Station – before the government had even assessed the planning application!
Today, updated satellite images have revealed even more land has been cleared – almost three hectares!
|We will be making a formal complaint to the NT Government, urging them to investigate. But we need your help to convince them to act.|
We need strong voices now. It’s critical that the full environmental impact of the proposed cotton gin and the associated expansion of the cotton industry are rigorously assessed, before it’s too late.
|We are increasingly concerned that it appears the cotton industry can’t be trusted to follow even the basic rules that we have in place to protect our landscapes and river systems. It’s time for the NT Government to restore that trust, by investigating this project properly, before the impacts start to reach our riverbanks. It would be devastating to see a repeat of the same mistakes as the Murray-Darling. |
Thanks for all you are doing to keep our rivers safe. I hope we can all continue to enjoy the Top End lifestyle well into the future. Our rivers, fishing and local communities are too important to risk.
Lori Martin and the Territory Rivers – Keep ‘Em Flowing team
15 Oct 2021
My name is Lori. I’m lucky enough to have lived on a rural block in the Top End for more than 30 years. Like you, I appreciate how special our Territory lifestyle is – particularly our access to iconic free-flowing rivers like the Daly, Victoria and Roper. These rivers are the lifeblood of our Territory way of life – they’re places that we relax, unwind, cast a line and enjoy the serenity.
But these river systems are coming under pressure like never before. Clearing has already started on a block of land just outside Katherine, for a massive cotton gin at Tarwoo Station – all before the government has even assessed the company’s planning application!
I know this because I live right next to the planned location for the gin, but I was also shocked to see clear proof via satellite images* that show land clearing and construction already underway.
This is only the start. The cotton industry has made it clear that the cotton gin is crucial to their plans for massive expansion of cotton production in the Top End.
I’m deeply concerned about the industry’s expansion plan — if allowed to proceed, it will lead to massive clearing of native vegetation and new demands for water from our rivers and floodplains. And it all starts with the cotton gin.
The cotton gin is backed by industry players from the Murray Darling, who see the Territory as their next big project.
I’m standing up and so are many other Territorians. It’s critical that the NT Government hears clear calls from the community for proper scrutiny of this proposal. Our rivers, fishing and local communities are too important to risk.
Territorians should be able to trust that our government will do the job of protecting our water and landscapes for the future. It would be devastating to see a repeat of the same mistakes as the Murray-Darling.
Lori Martin, Edith Farms
PS. I had a chance to talk to ABC radio about the impacts of this massive cotton gin earlier this week – listen in here and share with your friends and neighbours.
*Sentinel 2-L2A satellite data provided by Sinergise Laboratory for geographical information systems Ltd, EO Browser (accessed on October 3).
The Northern Territory electorate of Daly is facing a by-election on September 11, and local residents are asking candidates to make a pledge for our rivers and for the communities that rely on them.
Territorians know how much our rivers and water mean to our future – that’s why we must look after them. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the Murray Darling. Our rivers are too important – we need to do much more to look after them, and that starts with the candidates putting their hands up to represent Daly.
As a member of the Territory Rivers: Keep ’em Flowing alliance, the Environment Centre NT wishes to raise a number of significant concerns relating to the lack of meaningful consultation opportunity available for Territorians in the Darwin Future Water Supply – Have Your Say that began on Tuesday 13 July.
Territorians value our unique natural environment and the lifestyle that it sustains. The Adelaide River is iconic for Territorians of all backgrounds, for fishing, for culture, for tourism, for jobs and for its wildlife and wetlands. Adelaide River is a town – a community, but more importantly it’s the iconic, winding river that really makes the Top End tick. Its fishing, tourism, wildlife and hidden waterholes make it a hidden gem for Territorians in the know.
Territorians have consistently shown their strong commitment to protect the health of iconic rivers and therefore opposed plans for large dams (or whatever else they may be referred to as) that would negatively impact these river flows and the communities that rely on them.
We have the following concerns about this current process:
It is for these reasons that the Environment Centre NT is not responding to this particular Have Your Say survey with less than a two-week timeframe for input. We welcome any opportunity for meaningful engagement in water decision-making, in securing drinking water for Territorians, water for our environment and for all of us for the long-term. This current process for the Adelaide River does not meet those criteria.
The Environment Centre NT calls upon the Northern Territory Government to continue to fulfil its election commitment to restore trust in water decision-making with open, transparent and fair processes that allow for real public engagement at all levels, not a short survey provided limited options and even less details.
Prior to European settlement the Daly River area was an important traditional meeting place for Aboriginal people to trade and hold ceremonies. The river comprises a broad range of rich and diverse habitats supporting a vast array of species such as migratory birds, native marsupials, reptiles and fish which in turn provide abundant resources for Traditional custodians and local Aboriginal communities.
The traditional owners of the middle reaches of the Daly River and the surrounding area are the Malak Malak people, some of whom live in Nauiyu and in the downstream community of Wooliana.
The Malak Malak welcome recreational fishers to their country and have put together this great guide on how to get the most fishing out of the Daly River. Recreational fishers should respect and recognise the cultural importance of these waters to the Malak Malak people.