Border rivers dam plan boost for environment

Mole river dam project a boost for Murray Darling Basin but who will gain?

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Dumeresq Valley irrigator Angelo Saccon says a new dam proposal for the Mole River, above his farm, will do little for irrigators as no new water allocation is planned for users within the Murray Darling Basin.

Dumeresq Valley irrigator Angelo Saccon says a new dam proposal for the Mole River, above his farm, will do little for irrigators as no new water allocation is planned for users within the Murray Darling Basin.

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NSW Water has confirmed to Tenterfield Shire Council that the Mole River dam project will go ahead, with a memorandum of understanding given at a meeting earlier this month.

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NSW Water has confirmed to Tenterfield Shire Council that the Mole River dam project will go ahead, with a memorandum of understanding given at a meeting earlier this month.

The infrastructure project will be part of the border rivers plan, with costs and eventual supply shared with the Queensland government.

"NSW Water told us they are here to build a wall," said Tenterfield Shire Mayor Peter Petty.

Earlier designs submitted to the state government by the council proposed the project located 20 kilometres west of the town.

If the Mole River Dam is extended from its original proposal of 100 gigalitres to three times that, as has been strongly suggested by Cr Petty, then the upper Dumeresq catchment could hold a more reliable amount of water suitable for environmental flow and town water, but local irrigators are doubtful that with the current planning they will gain any allocation from the beneficiary scheme.

As no new allocation of water will be granted in the Murray Darling Basin, those with experience in the bureaucracy suggest new dam water will provide environmental water and perhaps some options for local town supply.

Certainly the dam has potential to supply townships from Dundee in the south to Stanthorpe and beyond in the north, but that would require tunnels and pumps. Is this project merely a feel good step towards water security?

"There is no such thing as new water," says Dumeresq Valley irrigator Angelo Saccon. "NSW Water enlarged Pindari dam years ago, but none of that new water turned up in anyone's account."

When the rivers were running at 600 megalitres a day a month ago, Mr Saccon was allowed to pump and irrigate a crop of lucerne, but storage was not permitted. Now the river has dropped to 150ML/day, a cease pumping order has been declared.

"Irrigators have not been allocated any water that has gone into the dam lately," he said.

The last time Mr Saccon had a full allocation from Glen Lyon dam was in 2012, immediately following the wettest year on record, which included the devastating Toowoomba floods and a violent flow that damaged crops and paddocks at Mingoola.

Meanwhile, a release of some of that water for Goondiwindi resulted in just one quarter of that flow getting to its destination.

"To make a difference to irrigators we need a new dam to hold more like 600 gigalitres, not 100GL," said Mr Saccon.

"We need something bigger, something like the Bradfield Scheme."

Pecan farmer Ed Hickson, Dumeresq Valley. Is the Mole River plan big enough?

Pecan farmer Ed Hickson, Dumeresq Valley. Is the Mole River plan big enough?

Time to enact a big plan say users

Irrigators drawing water from bores and from the river just below Riverton welcome the Mole River plan, but say now is not the time to tinker with little projects.

Ed and Annie Hickson farm pecans on a property in the picturesque Dumeresq Valley, where enormous river red gums suggest good fertility and access to groundwater.

Young trees don't need much, about three megalitres a hectare and Mr Hickson says he got by in the worst of the drought by drip feeding, adjusting pH to soften hard bore water and constantly adding trace elements like zinc, iron and copper. Leaf tests have proven essential when monitoring uptake.

"The idea of a dam on the Mole River would be good for us," he says. "But is it the right thing to do?

"Where are we going with this idea? Right now we have a real opportunity to do something on a large scale, rather than dither."

Mr Hickson says the concept of government building dams then selling its water before eventually buying it back was a strange one.

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