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Has the tide turned on controversial weir works?

Western Plains App

Luke Williams

10 June 2024, 9:20 PM

Has the tide turned on controversial weir works?Water flowing over the Homestead Dam fishway at Toorale. Source: Matthew Gordos, NSW DPI, Fisheries.

Walgett mayor Jason Ramien has said that a NSW Government proposal for the Calmundi, Banarway and Louth weirs came about because "they haven't been listening to the community" but it now looks like the Department in charge might be changing course.

 

"We want more water security, not less," Cr Ramien told the Western Plains App.

 

"People actually want those weirs heightened, not reduced. The community does not want the current design at all."


The department's plan was 'to install a fishway in a small section of the (Louth) weir so fish can pass over when there is enough water in the river.'


They say they are not proposing to reduce the height of the entire weir or remove the Louth, Calmundi and Banarway weirs. 

 

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) told the Western Plains App it will be upgrading the weirs later in the year "to fix leaks and lock in better water security for landholders".



 The statement, provided on June 6, does seem to provide a different focus to the previous statement provided to us in early May.


"The proposed work is to reconstruct these existing weirs to incorporate fishways to improve river health and native fish migration," a spokeswoman said at that time.


"These modifications will not impact water security for towns. It will not impact water availability for farmers.


"The existing weirs are ageing, and the infrastructure is leaking and currently losing significant quantities of water every day."


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 Barnaway Weir: Image. DPIE.


The shift in statement from "improving river health" to no mention of fish numbers and a focus on "water security" comes amidst rising community sentiment against the proposed lowering of the weirs.


Mid last month, a community meeting was held in Louth to discuss the Fish Passage Project which was attended by 60 people.


Residents voiced their concerns about plans to lower the Louth Weir by 400 millimeters to allow for construction of the fishway.


The department returned for a second round of discussions on 29 May.


Jason Ramien. Image: Walgett Shire Council


Also in May, Bourke Shire Mayor Barry Hollman and General Manager Leonie Brown met with Water Minister Rose Jackson in Sydney to discuss their concerns over plans for the weirs.

 

Pressed on whether this change in emphasis and language meant that the DPIE was planning on raising rather than lowering the weirs, a spokeswoman said "No decisions have been made yet but we’re looking at a number of options".

 

"Once the design process is further along, we will be taking the revised plans back to the community for them to have their say".


 

They said that they have had several meetings with Cr Ramien and that the design process "takes time" but they "...have listened carefully to the concerns of the community over the past couple of months, particularly in regards to weir height and water security, and we are taking all of that into account before making any decisions". 

 

The Department says the recent meetings build on more than 12 months of consultation.


"The feedback we received last year helped us finesse the scope of work, but we recognise some stakeholders still have concerns which is why discussions are ongoing," said NSW DCCEEW Director of Infrastructure Projects, Andrew Lavelle.


"Consultation doesn't just stop and start with community meetings. My team is always available on the phone or via email during the week."

 

Rose Jackson. Image: NSW Labor.

 

However the main criticism from Cr Ramien is over a perceived lack of consultation by the Department with those likely to be affected.

 

“I have emailed NSW Aboriginal Land Council, Roy Butler’s officer and have written to the Minister, requesting that the project be disbanded and alternative solutions for fish passage ways be investigated," he said.

 

"If they are going to lower the weirs then they are not in touch with our communities."

 

In the statement the spokeswoman said that while the Department consulted with the Walgett community last year, the current mayor was not part of those discussions and it had since made an effort to meet with Cr Ramien to hear his concerns.