Late last year I wrote to you about an alarming threat to the health of the Fitzroy River, a massive dam and irrigation proposal on Gogo Station that had just been referred to the EPA. There is now more evidence to share with you that confirm our fears. The proposal sent to the EPA was ‘Stage 1’ of the development. A freedom of information request has revealed that the proponent plans a much larger project, and that this was submitted as a business plan to other Government agencies.
The Fitzroy River is the lifeblood of the Kimberley important for culture; recreation; industries like fishing, tourism and pastoralism; and many protected species. It is the last great stronghold for the critically endangered Freshwater Sawfish. Sawfish have lived since the time of the dinosaurs but now all species of sawfish are endangered.
The Fitzroy is also of great cultural significance, and has been National Heritage Listed for its cultural values. Fitzroy River Traditional Owners expressed their concern for the river and desire to be involved in its protection in the 2016 Fitzroy River Declaration.
The proposal originally submitted to the EPA was described by experts as “highly unlikely to be environmentally acceptable”. It involved clearing 8000ha of land near the river, and taking between 50 and 200 billion litres of water. The full business case now reveals their ambition to double the area of crops, requiring double the water. The required 100 billion litres is nearly a quarter of the entire volume of water in Sydney Harbour!
The new documents also reveal that stage one would use 260 44-gallon drums of herbicides and 30 road trains worth of fertiliser each year. One of the herbicides listed is Atrazine that has been banned in the EU from 2003 because of water contamination. Fertiliser run-off is a major cause of algal blooms in rivers. Inevitably, some of these chemicals will end up in the river.
Dams and major irrigation projects pose a range of threats to the river. A major threat is that they would impact on the pools of water that remain after the river stops flowing in the dry season – and where the sawfish and all river life hang on until the rains return.
I support the McGowan Government’s election commitment to protect the Fitzroy River with a new National Park and Catchment Management plan. However, it is crucial that the catchment management plan provides real protection for the river and species like sawfish and ensures that economic development options are chosen that support, not undermine proper, protection of the river.
This could be the last chance for the Fitzroy River and its endangered sawfish. What happens next will decide if the river is protected, or if the water given away.
As my local MP, I ask you to join me in ensuring that the Fitzroy River, its outstanding cultural values, and critically endangered sawfish are properly protected for future generations. Will you support a scientifically robust buffer zone to protect the sensitive river pools and wetlands from dams, irrigation and other threats?