THE COTTON industry has come out swinging at claims that the devastation in the Lower Darling, which saw hundreds of thousands of fish deaths is partially due to over extraction of water in the Upper Darling and its tributaries.
Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray said the cotton industry was ‘sick and tired’ of being the ‘whipping boy’ for low water levels, blaming instead the ongoing drought.
The fish deaths have been put down to low oxygen levels in the water, which is becoming stagnant due to low flows.
The Menindee Lakes, critical to Darling River health, are currently at just 2.5 per cent of their capacity, meaning they cannot be used to flush the system.
Mr Murray said the ill-health of the Darling was due to the two year drought through NSW and southern Queensland and not from over allocation of water supplies.
“New South Wales is in the grips of a long and devastating drought. This drought is impacting all agricultural sectors, including the cotton industry where this season’s crop is forecast to be at least half of last season,” Mr Murray said.
“On the Barwon-Darling, the impact on cotton production is even more devastating with zero hectares of cotton being grown in Bourke this season, down from 4,000 hectares the year before.”
“Further upstream at Dirranbandi (home of Cubbie Cotton), just 300 hectares of cotton has been planted, which is 1pc of what can be planted in a very good season.”
Community leaders in the Lower Darling have been quick to point the finger at the irrigation sector upstream, pointing to arrests for water fraud as proof the system is being exploited.
However, Mr Murray said the industry was law abiding.
“Cotton Australia is very proud of our industry that produces a quality fibre that is in demand both here at home and around the world; but as an industry we are growing very tired of being ‘the whipping boy’ for all the problems that are being brought on by this crippling drought,”
“The recent fish deaths in the Barwon-Darling river system at Menindee was a devastating sight. However, it is wrong to blame cotton growers for this incident.
“About 18 months ago, 2,000 gigalitres of water was in the Menindee Lakes before the Murray-Darling Basin Authority took the deliberate decision to accelerate releases from Menindee to meet downstream requirements and reduce overall evaporation losses from the Lakes.
“In hindsight, this was probably a poor decision, but it does highlight the incredibly difficult task of managing flows in a manner that minimise losses, but ensures enough water is available for communities and the environment during extended severe droughts.
“Since July 1 2017, irrigators have extracted just 16 gigalitres out of the Barwon-Darling - an amount that would have evaporated out of Menindee in just 16 days.