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Outback joy as rains restart Barwon River running through Brewarrina to Menindee Lakes

By Jessie Davies, Tuesday February 18, 2020 - 17:01 EDT
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The Barwon River is the best playground a kid could ask for, according to Brewarrina's Molly Murray, Rhae-Kye Waites, Kasey Croaker and Mia-Rae Murray. - ABC

Scenes of joy are unfolding in the tiny New South Wales town of Brewarrina, where the Barwon River is running for the first time in almost a year.



The long-awaited flow arrived on the weekend after widespread rain fell in the Namoi Valley last week.

Since the river began running, hundreds of local people have flocked to bathe in its cool, muddy waters — among them Indigenous babies, whose first river swim is an important cultural rite.

"It's so good to have our river back," local Mia-Rae Murray said.

"It completes Brewarrina."

If pumping embargoes remain in place, it is likely the water will flow along the Barwon-Darling River all the way to the Menindee Lakes and restore river connectivity in the northern NSW basin for the first time in two years.



Come one, come all

For anglers, water in the river means locals and tourists can resume their hunt for the river's most prized trophy — the Murray cod.

"It's like Christmas," Brewarrina Fishing Club vice president Max Jeffrey said.

"We're all like kids in a lolly shop watching the water rush past us."

Mr Jeffrey estimated 90 per cent of the township enjoyed fishing and said the pastime propped up the town's ailing economy.

He invited tourists to come to town to help Brewarrina celebrate.



Flow causes fish deaths

While the riverine environment has sprung back to life, the sudden gush of water has caused thousands of fish to die at Brewarrina's famed Four Mile bend.

On Sunday, Ngemba elder Trish Frail rushed to help when she heard fish were drowning in the newly arrived silty, de-oxygenated water.



"It was so hard getting out of the car and walking over to the edge of the river and seeing all those fish laying there," Ms Frail said.

"I saw shrimp and yabbies on the riverbank too.

"It was a very emotional event."

Ms Frail and a group of community members worked for hours to relocate hundreds of native fish, but thousands could not be saved.



Anger at upstream extraction

After three years of unprecedented dry conditions, towns along the Barwon/Darling system are desperate for their communities and the environment to reap the benefits of rainfall.

Irrigators are equally desperate to restart production.

But the amount of water that makes it to the Menindee Lakes depends on pumping restrictions.

The vast bulk of extraction in the northern NSW basin has remained suspended to allow water to travel as far south as possible.



But last week NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey for three days.

At the moment there is a basin-wide embargo in place to stop extraction, including flood plain harvesting, but this is set to expire on February 27.

Brewarrina Shire Council mayor Phil O'Connor wanted the embargo to be extended by another month.

"By February 27 the river will be at its peak in Bourke," he said.

"If irrigators there are allowed to access the water at that time, we'll see the guts of this river go right down.

"The people downstream deserve a lot better than that."



An anxious wait at Menindee

If the flow does make it downstream to Menindee, it will not arrive until mid-March.

Resident Graeme McCrabb said the water's arrival would be a significant event.

"We've been saving Murray cod, golden and silver perch downstream and bringing them into the town weir pool, but we're just about out of water," he said.

"If we don't have an inflow in the next few months they'll perish."

Mr McCrabb hopes the flow will be strong enough to reach Menindee and connect with the Murray downstream.

"That's a 400-kilometre stretch of dry river bed," he said.

"So it would be significant if it made it."


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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