15 A river and a livelihood all but lost in a decade 141 Consultation There was no discussion about developments, authorised by the Queensland Government, with downstream communities or even the Government of New South Wales. The entire Queensland water allocation management planning process was consistently weighted heavily towards the irrigation industry. Considerable concern mounted during the late 1990s and 2000s about the inequities of the planning process (Tan 2000 see Chapter 21). In 1999–2000, the Queensland Government developed a Water Allocation Management Plan. There was consensus among stakeholders about the plan, recommending cutbacks and restrictions. The irrigation industry objected to the modelling and planning began again with considerable national and state controversy. This was the catalyst for the Premier of Queensland, the Honourable Peter Beatty, to commission an enquiry headed by freshwater ecologist Professor Peter Cullen. There were four terms of reference for review: (1) the hydrological modelling by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources for the Condamine–Balonne Basin (2) the current ecological condition of the Lower Balonne river system, including its floodplains and wetlands (3) the current relevant scientific information in order to propose an ecological definition of the health of the working river applicable to the Lower Balonne context and (4) the range of likely future ecological conditions and trends in the health of the Lower Balonne river system, including its floodplains and wetlands (Cullen et al. 2003). The scientific report concluded that the time lag was too short to clearly demonstrate impact, but ‘there will be significant long-term degradation of the Lower Balonne Floodplain and of the Narran Lakes in particular once the system experiences the water extraction that is possible with the present infrastructure’ (Cullen et al. 2003). Further, the report concluded that the full impacts would not necessarily be fully obvious even in 40 years, given high flow variability. The report was substantially ignored because it was equivocal in the short term, with different sides choosing sections from the report that supported their positions. Water resource planning started again, requiring a Community Reference Group of 22 members, including 12 members, with the Chair from the irrigation industry and only four from New South Wales, of which three were floodplain graziers, including myself, and the other a councillor from Brewarrina. The remaining members were from local councils and management groups in Queensland. No one provided input from the New South Wales Government. Concerns of floodplain graziers downstream about the river and floodplain were largely neglected when the Queensland Government legislated the plan in August 2005. Nothing addressed the problem of downstream impacts or reduced extraction. There was only one small concession. If, after a dry period, there was a flood with a peak of 60 000 ML/day, which would flood a smaller downstream area than a natural flood peaking at 20 000 ML/day (i.e. before development), there would be a 10% reduction in diversions for up to a maximum period of five days. Further, this water was only ‘borrowed’, allowing it to be taken in the future for irrigation. In 2004, this concession would have only have delivered a meagre 4902 ML (a 10% increase), divided between four rivers. Sadly, the New South Wales Government was missing in action, meekly accepting the inevitable consequences for the downstream river and its floodplain. The planning processes
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