DEBATE continues to rage about the state of Keepit Dam and what can be done to prevent a repeat in the next drought, as it holds steady at 0.5 per cent of its capacity.
Namoi Water chief executive Jon-Maree Baker and Parkes MP Mark Coulton have weighed in after a petition started calling for the water in storage to be held above 20pc in future.
Ms Baker said that would “decimate Wee Waa” and rip $205 million a year from downstream economies.
Mr Coulton said such a petition “comes with disregard to other communities in areas downstream such as Gunnedah, Boggabri, Narrabri, Wee Waa and Walgett”.
And one of the petition’s backers, angler and scientist Anne Michie, said they were “not about to try to shut down the irrigation industry” but wanted better water management in dry times.
The dam water has been lost to evaporation, and released by water managers WaterNSW for needs such as crop irrigation, Walgett’s town supply and river health.
“Water orders were to be met … but letting that last few per cent go hasn’t benefited anyone,” Ms Michie said.
“I definitely don’t want to see industry suffer, but recreational fishing is a $3 billion industry in NSW alone – are we going to kill that? And that’s just fishing; it’s not taking in skiers, sailors and so on.
“If recreation goes, it has a huge impact on the related businesses, too.”
Ms Baker said Keepit and its top-up source Split Rock Dam were built for irrigation and economic activity, and the 20pc minimum would affect availability for critical human needs, essential supplies, high-security and general-security licences.
“The impact of this change in the rules would decimate Wee Waa; it would mean a loss of $205 million annually out of the local economy of Narrabri, Wee Waa and Gunnedah,” she said.
“Water users pay for the running of the dam, and delivery of water this season has kept the downstream towns alive – literally alive in the supply of stock and domestic water.
“There is strong support for recreational fishing and improving fish outcomes in the river; however, the petition shows a lack of understanding of the rules of the water sharing plan and the wide range of users’ needs.”
Ms Baker said Namoi Water would work with local government to organise meetings in Narrabri and Gunnedah, on the water sharing plan and management options.
“Rather than a petition, it would be more appropriate to hold stakeholder forums to improve understanding of the plan management, to allow options to be discussed to preserve the older fish within the dam during events such as this.”
Mr Coulton said: “When it comes to water, factual debate is needed; not emotive knee-jerk reactions to an increasingly complex matter”.
“We must consider the needs of all water users and members of the community … Seventy-eight per cent of water in the Namoi River is reserved for the environment, and of the water that flows down the Namoi from Keepit, only 14pc is used for irrigation.
“These are facts worthy of consideration.”