WATER FLOW: The upper reaches of the Clarence River are running wild and free, but with water becoming increasingly scarce, will this remain the case forever?
WATER FLOW: The upper reaches of the Clarence River are running wild and free, but with water becoming increasingly scarce, will this remain the case forever? Simon Hughes

BEHIND THE DESK: What's the future for the Clarence River?

Can't just say no to diabolical dams

Tim Jarrett

WHILE the debate over Clarence dams may seem simple enough to most, we have a responsibility to do more than say no.

As the debate moves forward, which it no doubt will, the Valley needs to be on the front foot when it comes to showing there are alternatives to dams and diversion.

While it is clear to most that dams and diversions would have devastating consequences for us down here, the fact is that it can't get much worse for those up river. Their dams are already empty.

They have a lot to lose and they will fight hard to ensure they can continue to farm so as to ensure we can continue to eat and enjoy the magic of a (largely) functioning economy.

This is not an us and them scenario; we are all one country and the best thing we can do is join the conversation in a practical way as opposed to simply saying, no, you can't have "our" water.

One way we can lead by example is by recycling our water to a drinkable standard.

It makes no sense to say to those in drought-stricken areas that 'every drop counts' and then continue to water our pansies while pumping our waste into the sea.

The fact the government has been dusting off the old inland diversion plans shows just how dire the situation is and while the Shannon Creek dam may be pretty full, we just don't know what our water needs might be in the future.

And I might point out here we are about to build a new sewerage plant. It could be an opportune time to follow Perth and get to recycling.

But to put this all into perspective, can you imagine having this discussion over an international border?

Look what they done to our river, Ma

Tim Howard

THE fate of Australia's iconic wild river, the Snowy, is a cautionary tale for those determined to make rivers flow other than where nature intended.

Turning away from the gloomy days of World War II, planners looked at the annual gush of water racing from the Australian Alps snow melt and thought "what a waste".

Between 1949 and the 1970s not one but four dams - Jindabyne, Guthega, Island Bend and Eucumbene - stopped all but one per cent of the Snowy's headwaters flowing downstream.

What was once a tempestuous roiling six-metre deep torrent of pristine water became a moribund, silted trickle overgrown with invasive weeds.

A river and people who depended on that flow were either flooded out in the case of the town of Jindabyne, or forgotten in the case of the pastoralists of the Monaro.

But this is not the cautionary tale.

Unconscionable as this behaviour seems today, it is the story of the attempts to rehabilitate the Snowy that should make the people of the Clarence take note.

In mid 1990s scientists who wanted to restore some semblance of health to the river took a good look and came up with a figure of just 28 per cent of the original flow to grant the river a new lease of life.

Then the politicians became involved.

The seemingly reasonable 28 per cent was reduced to 15 per cent.

But by 2009 environmental flows of just five per cent had been achieved.

Without the annual snow melt, the Clarence would have even less water to work with and political force to exert.