15 – A river and a livelihood – all but lost in a decade 139 The impacts Brenda Station is an official recording station for the Bureau of Meteorology for river heights and rainfall. There were 110 floods from 1905 to 2005 at Brenda Station, averaging one about every 11 months. The homestead was never out of water between 1890 and 1992. In 1993, we were without water for 10 months and another four months in 2003. These were drought years, but the river still reached Brenda Station during the worst drought of 1943– 47. Average annual rainfall for 2001–05 was 295 mm compared to 173 mm for 1943–47. The river often used to run continuously for a year before water resource development. This development reduced river flows at the end of the Culgoa River by 58% (CSIRO 2008). The environmental effects were tragic and depressing. We had hundreds of dying or dead river gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), coolibah (E. coolabah) and river cooba (Acacia stenophylla), and thousands of hectares of dead lignum (Duma florulenta) (Fig. 15.2b). The latter provided nesting habitat for bird life and was very important food for livestock. At the same time, terrestrial plants such as rolypoly (Sclerolaena muricata) invaded the floodplain. Six fish species in this system are endangered. Waterbird numbers have declined. In 1996 the New South Wales and Queensland governments gazetted the Culgoa National Park, an 80 000 ha area to protect river red gums, coolibah and lignum communities dependent on flooding. These areas will continue to degrade over the coming decades. Transferring our wealth upstream After 1999, we did not get even a low flood for over six and a half years, and seven years for a moderate flood. Before 2004, a river flow peaking at 65 000 ML/day, at Jack Taylor Weir at St George, produced a moderate flood, inundating 24 000 ha on Brenda Station (e.g. 1994). Contrastingly, the 2004 flow peak of 66 802 ML/day, a major flood at St George, did not flood a single hectare of Brenda Station, nor anywhere south of the Queensland border. Our income was transferred upstream, as we lost production from livestock and dryland farming, a loss estimated to be $568 735 in 2004. Carrying capacity for sheep and cattle respectively decreased by 30% and 45%. The Queensland Department of Natural Resources offered no explanation when we met them. Instead, the Queensland water agency continued to allow diversion of water for irrigation in 2005, when people downstream on the Culgoa and Birrie Rivers had to cart water for essential domestic supply. The extent and frequency of flooding decreased. We even had to build four off-river storages to supply our livestock with drinking water, without any financial assistance, for a service that the river used to provide for free. We also had to pipe water to parts of Brenda Station previously supplied with flood waters. Next, we had to fence off large sections of the river because livestock could cross the river, which had been a natural barrier. These real costs were incurred by many along these rivers and yet never recognised in any socio- economic analyses, until relatively recently during the Northern Basin Review (Murray– Darling Basin Authority 2016b). Further, the land lost value because reduced flooding decreased productivity (Fig. 15.2). For example, nearby Balgi Station had its land rates reduced by 30% in 2003. The properties became harder to sell. Upstream development with the irrigation simply shifted the wealth from a huge area of landholders to a small area of irrigators.
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