Blue spots cause Aussie outrage

 

Irrigators are angry over the release of a routine satellite monitoring map that appears to have returned some disturbing images over the drought-affected Murray-Darling Basin.

In a public report released by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority yesterday, satellite images picked up 29 private dams in the Namoi and another three in the Macquarie regions were full or partially full during a pumping ban.

The ban was put in place in the drought-stricken Murray-Darling Basin, which is in the midst of its driest 33 month period on record. With the 2018-19 bushfire season already off to a disastrous start, the lack of water for firefighting is also likely to have dire consequences for the region.

The photos were taken using surveillance imaging to monitor the "first-flush flows" into the Namoi, Macquarie and Warrego catchments and has raised questions about where the water came from.

"If they're following the rules and they've got a legally-acquired right, I'll back them to the hilt," state member for Barwon, Roy Butler, told the ABC.

"But at the same time, if people do the wrong thing then I'm happy to see them referred to the regulator, to NRAR, and there be consequences.

Satellite images of the Namoi, taken March 31 and April 5. Picture: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
Satellite images of the Namoi, taken March 31 and April 5. Picture: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

 

The satellite images have questioned how private dams on the Namoia nd Macquarie rivers filled during a water-pumping embargo earlier this year. Picture: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
The satellite images have questioned how private dams on the Namoia nd Macquarie rivers filled during a water-pumping embargo earlier this year. Picture: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

"In the Namoi, the MDBA found that 29 private storages appeared to fill or partially fill during the embargo. In the Macquarie, another three private storages were found to fill during the embargo," confirmed MDBA Chief Executive, Phillip Glyde.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has referred the matter to state watchdog, the Natural Resources Access Regulator. However, Mr Glyde insists the images are not absolute proof of illegal activity.

"There are many reasons why a farm dam could have filled quite legally which is why it is important for follow up work to be done on the ground by state compliance officers."

Mr Glyde added that co-operation between agencies at the state and Commonwealth level is what farmers, local communities and the broader public rightly expect of water managers, especially in times of water scarcity.

Picture: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
Picture: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

Yet the head of the National Irrigators Council, Steve Whan, slammed the public release of the images and told the ABC it should have been handled internally until the matter was resolved.

"My view is that it would have been fairer if this report had actually just been handed to the regulator and then was made public when they'd actually explored whether there was actually anything that was wrong," he said.

"I think we've all got to recognise that, at a time of stress as a result of the most serious drought in the northern basin that's ever been seen, a lot of people are just going to assume that wrongdoing has occurred.

"And that, I think, is unfair and disappointing."