Bill Massman talks about the devastating impact that short-sighted water-sharing plans are having on the marshes

Bill, a cattle farmer on the Macquarie Marshes near Carinda, grew up on the river. He remembers how the marshes were teaming with life, the river was flowing all year round, and his dad's cattle farm was a sustainable and reliable business.

He talks to me about how water security in the area has changed things for the worse:

“About 10 or 20 years ago the marshes were a natural paradise. There were huge numbers of water birds like Magpie Geese, Brolgas, Freckled Ducks, Grebes, Australian Painted Snipes and Australasian Bitterns, and there was plenty of fish. The red gums stood tall in the marshes, and the sound of the Burrowing frogs could be heard loud and clear. Now, even though there has been a water release from the dam, the River barely even flows, I can’t really believe it, it breaks my heart.”

“Things have been changing ever since the Burrendong dam was put in place. Over time, water irrigation licences have grown to the extent that now there is just not enough water in the river to meet the demands of large-scale farmers upstream. When there's less water in the system the marshes are left with the dregs.

"This year has been one of the worst, the marshes were completely dry, and all of the waterbirds and wildlife vanished."

“The 2005 water sharing plan, was the straw which broke the camel’s back. Since then the marshes - which we’ve relied on for years in times of drought - have been drying out. A large amount of the water is being sucked out of the system further upstream and there’s very little left for the river and marshes - not to mention the people, animals and plants that depend on them.”

“Cattle and sheep farmers have lived here for 100s of years. Beef from cattle raised on the marshes used to provide 250,000 Australian people each year with great quality homegrown beef, now, with the marshland drying out, small-scale farming just isn’t possible. We're in the middle of a terrible drought and yet we still hear stories about powerful irrigators using huge amounts of water to grow crops which often end up overseas. You tell me Neil, what kind of sense does that make?”

I sadly have no answers for Bill...

Bill's clearly at his wit's end. Each year he has to sell off more of his cattle. He now has only four bulls on his farm which he plans to sell when he leases his property out in the summer. Bill and his family cannot rely on the river or the marshes anymore and cannot make a living on their property. He emotionally talks about how they have no choice but to give up the farm and move on from their lifelong home. At least for the time being…

The Macquarie marshes - once a haven of natural life and connectivity – have quite simply been neglected by the government. The precious lifeblood that water has historically provided to the region has been choked by water sharing plans that ignore the health of Australia's people, or it's environment and instead, blindly strive to generate short-term profits.

If Australian water continues to be used to fuel unsustainable farming practices that focus on short term profits rather than the long-term health of Australia's fragile natural resources, then all of the natural wonders we have taken for granted will wither and die. The rare ecosystems that have thrived for thousands of years will disappear and food and water security will continue to decline.

It’s time for the Australian government to take responsibility for the health of our precious ecosystems and communities by implementing responsible and sustainable water sharing plans.

Ask yourself, Is it really worth it? Wouldn't your children, and children's children, prefer to get the chance to swim in our rivers, eat a peach grown in a local farm, and see an Australian Painted Snipe swoop down onto a thriving lush green floodplain?

Make your voice heard, join us in the fight for healthy Australian rivers. Email one of our staff members and they'll connect you with a local ACF river fellow.

Neil Sutton