Protecting wild rivers – the Paroo River should be first
Humane Society International (HSI) is hopeful that the announcement last week of the Federal Government’s new water policy, and commitment to spending $10 billion on the Murray-Darling river system, signals a call to action on the conservation of all of Australia’s precious and relatively unaltered rivers. This is a vital component of water conservation, now and into the future. Ensuring the protection of Australia’s remaining wild and free flowing rivers, starting with the Paroo, should be a part of the new water deal.
As the only one of 26 river catchments in the vast area of the Murray Darling Basin that has not been seriously altered by water extraction, HSI has nominated the Paroo River Catchment for listing as National Heritage under Australia’s national environment laws.
“National Heritage listings for Australia’s major wild rivers are an important tool with which the Commonwealth Government could show its leadership in managing this continent’s precious water resources”, said HSI Director Michael Kennedy.
The Paroo River catchment is described as the last natural river system in south-eastern Australia, and covers an area of about 76,200 square kilometres in north-western New South Wales and south-western Queensland. It encompasses a diversity of inland wetlands (saline lakes, freshwater lakes, near-permanent riverine waterholes, claypans and lignum swamps) which support a treasure trove of aquatic wildlife and are a magnet for up to 250,000 waterbirds during peak floods. Rich in Aboriginal heritage and spirituality, the Paroo catchment is also an integral part of Australia’s development as a nation built ‘on the sheep’s back’.
In recognition of their importance to Australia’s landscape and water resources, HSI has also submitted the Prince Regent and Fitzgerald Rivers, both pristine wild rivers in Western Australia, as part of broader National Heritage nominations. These and other rivers await assessment by the Australian Heritage Council.
These nominations follow a recommendation from respected water expert, Professor Peter Cullen, to the Prime Minister in 2002 that Australia’s last remaining wild rivers should be protected as National Heritage under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
“In light of the water crisis facing the continent, and this timely commitment by the federal government, HSI asks that Environment and Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull expedite a serial listing and protection for Australia’s last remaining wild rivers, including the Paroo, as National Heritage to ensure they do not follow Australia’s other waterways into ecological disrepair”, said Mr Kennedy.
HSI welcomes the Howard Government revitalising its approach to Australia’s water crisis.