Malcolm Turnbull, the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for water, recently announced a $13.4 million grant to revive the Macquarie Marshes and other important wetlands.
But it is unclear how the money will be spent. Reference has been made to ‘plans’, ‘models’, ‘competing interests’, ‘drought’, ‘market mechanisms to recover water’, and ‘noxious weeds’.
But more money, more plans, more water won’t necessarily save the marshes.
There has been much discussion at his blog about the relative impact of drought, levies, grazing and cotton since I first visited the marshes in October last year.*
I have come to the conclusion that the marsh environment would benefit most from the following actions which were detailed in a blog post entitled ‘Three Pressing Issues for the Macquarie Marshes’:
1. Bulldoze the levy banks which are channeling water away from the two nature reserves and onto private land,
2. Protect key bird nesting sites from trampling by cattle.
3. Reduce the risk of overgrazing perhaps through some agreement about stocking rates and grazing regimes.
These actions would not be popular locally or easily understood in Sydney, but they would make a difference on the ground and they wouldn’t cost a lot of money.
Chris Hogendyk, an irrigator and chairman of Macquarie River Food and Fibre (MRFF), sent me a note following the $14.3 million announcement. He recommends that more land be purchased and converted to nature reserve:
“Both the Macquarie Marshes and Gwydir Wetlands are iconic wetlands valued internationally and by the local community.
… It is overly simplistic during a drought of record proportions to simply call for more water to solve the problems that face these important wetlands.
… 90% of the Marshes are in private hands which means 90% of any purchased water will be used for little more than grazing.
As a taxpayer I do not think that funding the purchase of water under these conditions will achieve a good environmental outcome.
In fact, more water delivered simply means more cattle and that in turn leads to further degradation of the environment.
MRFF has no problem in principle with the Government purchasing water from willing sellers to be used for the benefit of the environment, but we do object the Government purchasing water from one stakeholder group and delivering it to another stakeholder group free of charge.
MRFF proposes that a much better solution would be to purchase key land area within the marshes to protect this environment from grazing and hence get much better environmental value from the water there today.”
* Blog posts on Macquarie Marsh issues:
1. Cattle killing the Macquarie Marshes, 21October 2005
2. Marsh Graziers Don’t Pay for Water, 25 October 2005
3. More Water Won’t Save the Macquarie Marshes, 28 March 2006
4. But Reed Beds Need Water!, 12 April 2006
5. Three Pressing Issues for the Macquarie Marshes, 13 July 2006
6. Banking in the Macquarie Marshes: More Photographs & A Map, 17 July 2006
7. Fewer Trees Means More Water for Macquarie Marshes: Ian Mott, 23 July 2006