Territory Rivers – Keep ‘Em Flowing: communities launch movement to protect Top End rivers

17 Jun 2021

Local recreational fishers, tour operators and communities have come together with environmental organisations today to launch a campaign to protect iconic free-flowing rivers in the Northern Territory.

“Territorians should be proud of our rivers. Where we live is special, these rivers haven’t been dammed, don’t have large volumes of water taken from them, and have catchments that are all or primarily still native bushland,” said Kirsty Howey, Co-Director of the Environment Centre NT.

“While our rivers are mostly in good shape, they are under threat from big business who want to take huge amounts of water out – predominantly for cotton crops. Industry are pushing for a cotton processing facility near Katherine, huge increases in bulldozed land in the Douglas Daly and access to billions of litres more water from floodplains.”

Harold Sinclair, from Sinclair’s Daly River Fishing Retreat, is concerned about the impact of reduced water flows on the nearby Daly River.

“The NT Government needs to listen to people who live and work downstream on the river system. We only get one shot at getting this right and I’m worried that we’re steering towards a Murray-Darling disaster driven by the very same industry players,” he said.

“These big cotton growers seem to assume that they can just take more water out of our river systems – more than our rivers can sustain, particularly in drier years. Taking huge volumes of extra water from the Douglas-Daly floodplains will be disastrous for the barramundi that bring locals and tourists alike flocking in. 

“We need to listen to the experience and knowledge of those who know these rivers well, not more of the same from big cotton who are intent on rushing more irrigation to feed the proposed gin. Those of us whose lives and livelihoods depend on the river will be left to pick up the pieces,” said Mr Sinclair.

Roxanne Woolley is a recreational fisher and educator from Humpty Doo, who is deeply worried about the future health of our Territory rivers.

“The flows of these rivers are their lifeblood. Without the sustenance it provides to all living things – including the big Barramundi we all go out to catch – we’ve got nothing. We all bear a responsibility to nurture it for those of us here today and tomorrow.”

“In planning for the future, we need to ensure that the river is not a victim of a narrow view of economic development that ignores the people, jobs and lifestyle that can continue to make this place special. There is no future for an economy that has no water to sustain it. Without healthy rivers we’re all left high and dry,” said Ms Woolley. 

We’ve seen strong community voices from across the Top End speaking up – from Katherine, Nauiyu, Woolianna and Darwin – all of whom share concerns for the future health of the rivers that their communities rely on,” said Mitch Hart, NT Manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“These are recreational fishers, tourism operators, local food growers and community members who know how important our rivers are to what makes the Territory special.”

“The Top End has a unique lifestyle worth protecting. Free flowing tropical rivers are extraordinarily rare and our rivers are internationally significant. They are home to a diverse range of freshwater species; healthy, well-functioning ecosystems and they support local businesses and lifestyle,” said Mr Hart.

“Healthy rivers are central to our Territory way of life, our economic success and our culture. We need to all be working together to keep them as special as the rest of the Territory.”

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