No dams for cotton: Gunner needs to rule out floodplain extraction for cotton mates

25 Mar 2021

Environment Centre NT is calling on the Northern Territory Government to rule out a floodplain ‘dam rush’ to feed the proposed massive expansion of large scale agriculture driven by the proposed cotton gin at Tarwoo. 

The NT Government is due to release a ‘Surface Water Harvesting Policy‘ regulating dams and water extraction that could pave the way for a rapid expansion of cotton in the Top End. 

“Floodplain extraction means dams. Every dam that is built on the floodplain robs the rivers and aquifers of water,” said Kirsty Howey, Co-Director of ECNT.

“Industry has been pushing to get its hands on 520 billion litres of water from the floodplains in the Douglas-Daly region, including the floodplains for the iconic Daly River. Our floodplains are vital parts of our unique Top End ecosystems.” 

“It’s those big water flows on the floodplains that make our rivers work and flow healthily. Barra restocking relies on these big flushes every Wet season. Right now Territorians, visitors and local small businesses are gearing up for a huge run-off fishing season on the Daly.”

“The large-scale cotton industry hopes that they can get their rush for Territory water approved as the innocuous-sounding ‘floodplain harvesting’, but it’s obvious – Big Cotton wants dams. That’s too big a risk to the Territory’s other growers, fishing guides and fishers.”

“The cotton industry wanted free money to set up their cotton gin. When they didn’t get that, they stuck their hand out for free power lines and free roads, paid for by public money.”

“The Gunner Government must rule out giving the cotton industry free water from dams on our precious floodplains, as well as rule out paying for their power lines and roads. The Territory’s rivers are too precious to lose,” concluded Dr Howey.

Here are key questions that the Gunner Government’s floodplain extraction policy must answer:

  • What peer-reviewed studies and modelling has the Gunner Government obtained during the development of the draft policy, and will these be publicly released for scrutiny?
  • Who has the Gunner Government consulted about the floodplain harvesting policy so far? Any environmental groups or members of the public, or just their cotton mates?
  • How will the Government avoid double-dipping that would lead to over-extraction from our rivers? Surface water on our floodplains is what recharges our aquifers that many Territorians rely on for their drinking water and livelihoods, and that keep our environment healthy – especially in the Dry. If the cotton industry wants to take surface water from floodplains, then extract groundwater from the same system, how will the Government stop irreversible damage to these systems?
  • What measures will be put in place to ensure that any Surface Water Harvesting Policy that facilitates the extraction of water from floodplains will protect the health of rivers, fishing tourism businesses and biodiversity?
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