NSW government to blame for Walgett water crisis
The NSW government is siphoning off water for cotton farms, and coal and gas mines. It is robbing communities of precious water, while the climate is warming and drought is becoming more frequent.
Its rotten priorities is being played out in Walgett, a small town in NSW’s north-west which is home more than 2000 people. It is suffering from a human-made disaster on top of the long-running drought. Residents are having to truck in water because its bore system broke down.
In the local Gamilaroi language, Walgett means “a meeting of two rivers”. Right now, the Namoi and Barwon Rivers are running dry.
The township has been gripped by drought since 2011, and the NSW government has dealt with the water supply problem by telling residents to use the foul-tasting, health endangering bore water. That system broke down on January 3 and households and business were left without running water for a day. That day was a 39 degree Celcius day, and with air conditioners reliant on water, they could not be used. Shops and pubs closed.
Emergency services told residents the situation may not be resolved for days — cause for catastrophic health problems.
While the silence from state and federal governments was deafening, the community sprung into action: residents from Orange and surrounding towns delivered vans and trucks loaded up with portable drinking water.
Emergency services fixed the bore water supply on January 4, but the water levels remain dangerously low. The bore water is still undrinkable; it is bad for gardens and the need for drought relief remains.
Walgett was declared 100% drought effected in August 2018 and severe water restrictions were put into place in September: no watering of gardens or washing cars. Then, in December, with no water to pump in to the local weir, Walgett was forced to use bore water, which contains dangerous quantities of sodium.
This is water from the Great Artesian Basin and in Walgett tests have shown it to have sodium which exceeds Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. According to Associate Professor Jacqui Webster from the George Institute for Global Health, “The sodium levels in the Walgett water supply are at 300 milligrams per litre and the Australian drinking water guidelines are 180 milligrams per litre, so that’s substantially higher.”
While drought is clearly a problem, the slow death of the Namoi and Barwon River system is another. Through a complex system of weirs and dams, NSW Water and the NSW government are siphoning off water for cotton farms, irrigating large farms, prioritising water to coal and gas companies and leaving towns, like Walgett, dry.
Gamilaroi activist Raymond “Bubbly” Weatherall, who is assisting community organising efforts in Walgett, told Green Left Weekly that there is water in the area, but it is being given to big cotton farmers. “There are huge farms in this region that take all day to drive from one side to another, and they have water. The irrigation policies of the state government are to blame for Walgett’s water crisis.”
He said the NSW government was prioritising the interests of agribusiness and mining companies and that it had created the crisis through its water allocation policies.
Locals are angry: they are organising residents’ meetings to discuss water security. They are furious that NSW deputy premier John Barilaro came to Walgett last October to announce funding for a fishway had been secured. Residents told him then that Walgett needed greater water security, not a fishway, and urged funding to be allocated to heightening the weir.
To date, the government has not committed to doing that.
City and country people are angry that the government is prioritising water for cotton farms, and coal and gas mines and robbing communities of precious water, while the climate is warming and drought is more frequent. Many will be attending the January 26 Invasion Day rally in Sydney which is being organised by FIRE (Fighting In Resistance Equally) and where the issue is expected to be addressed by a Gamilaroi water activist.
FIRE is also asking for water donations and help transport it to Walgett. Call Raymond Weatherall to help the Water for Walgett campaign on 0403 189 373.
BSB: 633 000
Account: 150 758 621
Please write "Walgett" in the description tab.
[Rachel Evans is the lead candidate in the Socialist Alliance ticket for the NSW Legislative Council.]