Indigenous groups and pastoralists took their water rights claims to the NSW Parliament today to argue for a bigger share for their communities and the environment in the Far West.

Key points:

  • Indigenous groups are pushing for more water for parched outback rivers
  • Water is already short due to climate change and the over-allocation of water licences
  • Irrigators say they are not to blame for low flows

But getting the water will be difficult because the system is already stretched by climate change and the over-allocation of water licences.

Indigenous representatives and others travelled a thousand kilometres to Sydney today to meet with politicians and put their demands forward.

They claim the Darling-Baaka River and Menindee Lakes have been mismanaged and say that since the death of millions of fish in Menindee Lakes in 2019, the plight of the river and the ecosystems, communities and economies that rely on them have been forgotten.

They called for action to deliver enough water to allow for the continuous flow of the river so that weirs remained full and fish were protected.

Their main concern was flood plain harvesting, which they said was partly to blame for the reduction in water down the river system.

They want to limit the practice to ecologically sustainable levels by strictly limiting the issuing of new licences.

A group of people stand behind a man in a suit making a speech.

The Nature Conservation Council’s Chris Gambian with graziers Rob McBride, Julie McClure and Don Stewart from the Darling River Action Group at Parliament House.(

ABC News: Cecelia Connell

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Indigenous water rights

Barkandji Registered Native Title Group Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Derek Hardman has already won a significant land rights battle for his people over a large area of western NSW.

Now he has set his sights on water rights, which were not included in the original native title claim.

“We have rights over the river but no rights to the water,” he said.

He was concerned that without a change to the way water was managed much of the wildlife and the culture of his people would be lost.

“The way things are going with the over-allocation and over-extraction of water, we have no connectivity,” Mr Hardman said.

“We can’t take our kids fishing, camping, when there’s no water.

“Those are our cultural practices.”

The only way to ensure the survival of that environment was to allow the river to flow continuously, Mr Hardman said.

“Talking to the old timers they say there was always a flow, even if it was a trickle, and there were deep holes,” he said.

“Native title is about compensation and allowing us to practice our culture, [but] without water we can’t do that.

Skeletal remains of a shellfish sitting in a dry riverbed.

A dead mussel on the dry Darling riverbed.(

Supplied

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Irrigators deny blame

Irrigators said they were not to blame for the reduction in water in the Far West river system.

NSW Irrigators Association chief executive Claire Millar said climate change had reduced the amount of inflows into the system and when there was a reduction in the water available it was irrigators who missed out.

“The first people to get the water is towns, the second is the environment, to get the rivers running, third is stock and domestic,” she said.

She said the answer was not to keep taking water from irrigation.

“Irrigators have families as well and they’re taking a big hit from licencing, climate change, and the dry season,” Ms Millar said.

“I’d hate to think that the answer to this problem is to throw those communities under the bus.”

She said sustainable diversion limits in the Murray Darling Basin Plan ensured there were caps on water use and some big changes had been made to ensure more flows to the Darling.

“The river is already flowing better than it has in the past, because of the resumption in flow rule and the first flush rule,” Ms Millar said.

‘Rights over the river but not the water’: Native title holders, pastoralists lament plight of Darling-Baaka
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