Lake Eyre Basin Rivers 152 (Lockyer 2012). As any resident of the region knows, these big floods are the exception rather than the rule. The region endures extremely dry conditions for much of its existence. The occasional life-giving flows of the rivers towards Lake Eyre are absolutely vital to survival in this uncompromisingly harsh though beautiful environment. Any threat to the integrity of these flows must be viewed with alarm. Such a threat continues to loom large. The Liberal National Party Government in Queensland (2012–15), under Premier Campbell Newman, dismantled Wild River protections for the Channel Country and altered water legislation, allowing oil and gas resources companies and irrigation access to the Channel Country’s water resources, wetlands and floodplains (see Chapters 20–22). The Lake Eyre Basin has become another battleground for two great competing drives of modern civilization: the drive for growth which has already devastated the Earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity, versus the desire to respect, conserve and wisely use those remnants of natural beauty and biodiversity still left in our diminished world. Seventeen years ago, people of Cooper Creek, with the scientific and conservation communities, successfully fought a battle to protect the ‘Cooper’ from the damaging effects of a proposed large-scale cotton irrigation development (see Chapter 7). The Newman Government’s intention to open up the Channel Country rivers to irrigation, and to unconventional oil and gas development and the destructive effects of hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), now means the earlier battle must be fought again, this time on the wider front, encompassing the three major rivers of Lake Eyre: the Cooper, the Diamantina and the Georgina Rivers. Hence the title of this chapter, ‘Once more into the breach’, evoking Shakespeare’s portrayal of Henry V’s rallying speech to the English outside the walls of Harfleur (Bate and Rasmussen 2007). I provide a brief history of the first battle for the Cooper, highlighting the critical role of politics in the struggle to protect the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin. Proposed Currareva irrigation development On 25 September 1995, a consortium of four people from the Macquarie River, which supplies the Macquarie Marshes, a New South Wales wetland which had already incurred great social and environmental costs (see Chapter 16), announced their intention to develop a large irrigated cotton farm on the Currareva property, on the floodplain of Cooper Creek, ~12 km from Windorah (Fig. 17.2). The development, by what was known as the Currareva Partnership, was outlined in their Initial Advice Statement, proposing the growing of 3000 ha of cotton, with an annual harvest of 47 000 ML of water from the Cooper: 42 000 ML of new licence applications and 5000 ML of existing licences registered to the property. Less than 10% of Currareva’s existing licence allocation had ever been used, by a previous owner to irrigate a small (50 ha) stock fodder crop. The major portion of the existing licence allocations remained as ‘sleepers’, largely unused (see Chapter 20), until the Macquarie Valley consortium proposed to fully activate them. Other proposed infrastructure included the necessary large water harvesting pumps, a large diversion channel (700 m long and 9 m deep) to a pump station and 25 000 ML of shallow storage (ring tanks) on the floodplain (over 5 km2, 4.5 m deep). Their proposal foreshadowed possible future extensions of the project to horticulture and aquaculture, accompanied by additional demand for water.
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