Coonabarabran drought bore water dirty water
An image of bore water in drought-affected Coonabarabran (Image: Supplied)

In my language, we call water gali and we know that it equates to life. It is difficult to enunciate the emotions that emerge when you see once abundant waterways run dry, when environmental mismanagement takes that life away.

Our waterways had been protected for millennia but a mere 230 years since colonisation we are on the precipice of complete environmental destruction.

From the decimation of the fish in Sydney’s waterways following first contact to the redirection of waterways and economic bolstering of destructive industries such as cotton farming and mining, the greedy decisions made have all been contrary to the ecological sustainability of this country. We know who we have to thank for this mess.

While drought is cyclical and a clear problem throughout the eastern parts of the continent, the destruction of the Darling, Namoi and Barwon river system is another. Through a complex manipulation of the natural waterways to create weirs and dams, state water authorities and the government are siphoning off water for cotton and other large farms, as well as coal and gas companies.

We have only just passed the halfway mark on 2019, and already the Darling River has sustained two mass fish kills; we have had communities without potable drinking water; and communities are experiencing periods of no running water at all. Havoc is being wrought on the Australian ecosystem.

This once magnificent water system with many tributaries and lakes has had 15 cease-flow events since 2001 and, with the added impact of drought and the changes brought about by climate change, it is no wonder this waterway is suffering — as is the life it sustains.

While I now live in Sydney where the water is clear and access is not an issue, entire communities throughout Australia are dealing with water restrictions that would never be acceptable for urban residents.

In rural communities such as the country hub of Coonabarabran, residents have run out of dam water and are instead treated to the milky and smelly bore water that has replaced it.

Many residents are finding they have to boil this water to use it, and most have to resort to purchasing drinking water from the supermarket due to the spate of health issues arising from the sodium levels in the water.

Despite having access to bore water, they are also subject to level four water restrictions. This means no watering lawns, no use of hoses, timed showers, and restrictions on laundering clothes. Entire townships have been reduced to dust bowls.

Of course saving water is something that we should all strive to do, but it’s a hard pill to swallow for residents. As urban centres create waste after pooling resources, people in the country can’t even give their garden beds a drink.

ABC Western Plains recently presented an image the affected water (at top), which I took when visiting family on country, to the Warrumbungle Shire Council. The council denied it was responsible, saying the water colour and clarity was likely a result of the resident’s pipes.

My family rejected this explanation, and many angry residents took to social media to share their own images of similarly affected water.

Dirty water Warrumbungle Shire Council
(Image: Facebook)

The ecological ignorance of those in power is clear. They have allowed farming that is unsustainable in the dry Australian climate, farming which requires massive amounts of water. This is legally taken from the Darling and stockpiled for the watering of crops while our waterway continues to degrade.

Successive state and federal governments have allowed a natural waterway to be manipulated and diverted so that farms can store over 500 gigalitres of water for farming practices that should not even be happening in this country.

Sure, we have heard about the “buyback” as some sort of badge of governmental action, but why are our natural resources continuing to be commodified without thought to the consequences?

When there is environmental devastation, it is always the most vulnerable who feel the effects first and hardest.

Do you you live in a rural or drought-affected area? Let us know your thoughts at [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be considered for publication.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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