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Dumped gravel and rock blocks environmental water from flowing into Murray-Darling forest

Warwick Long, Monday September 23, 2019 - 14:24 EST
ABC image
Gravel and rocks have been dumped illegally to block environmental flows in the Murray-Darling system. - ABC

An irrigation channel used to release water into a forest along the Murray River in NSW has been filled with earth and rocks, with an irrigator saying the vandalism is a sign of frustration boiling over in the area.



It is illegal to damage irrigation infrastructure, but Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks said he was not surprised it happened.

"I can see it. It's on the highway between Barooga and Mulwala," Mr Brooks said.

"It's a dire situation.

"Desperate men do desperate things.

"I see the look in people's faces and they are pretty angry. It worries me, but it is going to happen."

Irrigators in the New South Wales Murray region are facing their second year of no water allocations and crops across the region are currently dying or being cut for hay due to lack of rain and, in many cases, irrigation water.

Mr Brooks said he had nothing to do with the vandalism, was not condoning it, but understood why it happened.

Commonwealth orders investigation



The ABC has asked the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Murray Irrigation Limited, and the NSW Environment Minister, Matthew Kean, for comment.

In a statement, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH), Jody Swirepik, expressed concern at the actions and called for authorities to investigate.

"I understand Murray Irrigation Limited were on site this morning to remediate the damage. These acts are a matter for consideration by the relevant authorities, including the NSW Government's Natural Resources Access Regulator, the Basin Inspector-General, and the police," she said.

"Environmental water holders are fee-paying customers of Murray Irrigation Limited. We also contribute to conveyance losses in the irrigation district to help get our water to sites which will be important refuges during the ongoing drought."

The CEWH did not own the environmental water being used in this case but is the largest owner of water in the Murray-Darling Basin and owns the majority of environmental water used in the basin.

The site of the vandalism was not far from where against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan at Tocumwal in early September.



Mr Brooks was one of the organisers of that protest where many speeches noted the Murray River was running high at a time irrigators could not access any water to grow crops.

He warned it could be the start of more protests where civil disobedience and illegal actions were used.

"I'm sure there will be more," Mr Brooks said.

"When you see water being wasted like that, it's asking for trouble."



Damage to be paid for by irrigators

Murray Irrigation, the company that owns and manages the infrastructure to deliver water in the region, has sent staff to clean out the channel and manage the water flow to minimise losses from the vandalism.

"The matter, as with all interference with our structures, has to be referred to the police," general manager for water delivery Scott Barlow said.

"My understanding is that it is also being investigated by the Natural Resources Access Regulator, which is responsible for enforcement and compliance for water laws in New South Wales."

Mr Barlow said Murray Irrigation was an irrigator-owned business and thus the repair bill to any damage by vandals would be borne by irrigators who owned the company.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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