I sent the following two letters to The Australian on 16th May. The second one was published as the lead letter on 17th May,2012
Your front page article and editorial (The Australian, May 16) highlights the whole fiasco of the Commonwealth and NSW Government’s purchase of Toorale Station.
In opening the Bourke Show on 5th May, the current Mayor referred to the disasters that had hit Bourke in recent times-the death of former Mayor Wayne O’Mally in an aircraft accident the previous Sunday, the Millenium Drought and the loss of Toorale. Bracketing Toorale with these events demonstrates the depth of feeling in the community in the totally unnecessary economic blow that the conversion of the district’s most productive property to a National Park represents.
Toorale was an iconic Darling River sheep station of 247,000 acres. It included about 7,000 acres in the form of a state of the art irrigation (cotton) farm. The purchase was driven by a political desire on the part of South Australian Senator Penny Wong to be seen “to do something” to reduce water extractions from the Darling and Warrego Rivers. Yet the reality is that it has minimal impact. If Toorale had continued to operate it would have reduced river flows in the Darling River past Louth in 2010/11 by 0.01%! In low flow periods no extractions or diversions are allowed. In other words, great social cost, for no environmental benefit.
The irrigation water storage (Ross’ Billabong) on Toorale is estimated to hold approximately 10,000 megalitres and this is the only irrigation storage on the Station and apart from any water that may have gone direct on to irrigation fields, this is the maximum amount that can be claimed as being “returned to the Darling”. Water for this storage can be pumped from the Darling or diverted from the Warrego.
The Warrego River, which is mostly not flowing and is only a shallow gutter, runs through the property from north to south. It has five dams on it, all of which have two four foot diameter pipes (and gates) in the bed of the river. These allow smaller flows to pass through to the Darling. They were closed towards the end of a flow so as to retain water for livestock and domestic purposes, both for Toorale and neighbours, not for irrigation.
When there is too much Warrego water for the pipes to carry, the river spills out to the west and runs down a natural flood plain, flooding over 20,000 acres before entering the Darling downstream of the main Warrego/Darling junction.
The original dams on the Warrego were built in the late 1890’s by the legendary Sir Samuel McCaughey and apart from providing livestock and domestic water storages, one was designed to push smaller flows out on to the western flood plain where the water stimulates the most prolific growth of natural pasture, ideal for livestock fattening.
The very reasonable requirement of the NSW Government, in the second half of last century, to place the pipes in the bed of the river and allow smaller flows to pass through to the Darling, effectively means that natural conditions have been replicated. If there is too much water for the open pipes to carry, the river would have spilled to the west anyway.
Thus, the Government cannot claim any additional “savings” as a consequence of the purchase of the irrigation licenses other than the water which could be stored for irrigation purposes in Ross’ Billabong-10,000 megalitres. The removal of the dams and banks would NOT provide any more water to the Darling.
The conversion of the whole property to a National Park has taken Bourke’s most productive station out of production with all of the harmful impact this has on the Bourke economy. Toorale used to pay 5% of Bourke’s total Shire rates, now it pays nothing. It has been estimated that it contributed 10% of the district’s GDP.
An investment of $23.75m. for less than 0.5% of the flow doesn’t sound like good economics to me.
(David Boyd is the retired Chairman and CEO of Clyde Agriculture Limited, the former owner of Toorale Station)
On the assumption that my earlier letter may be too long for publication here is a shorter one!
The article and editorial on Toorale (The Australian-16th May) highlights the absurdity of this Government purchase ($23.75M) in the first place. Had Toorale’s cotton farm (less than 3% of its total area) operated in 2010/11 it would have extracted/diverted 0.01% of the Darling River’s flow past Louth-just downstream. In dry years no extractions/diversions are allowed.
Thus, Bourke has been deprived of Toorale’s significant contribution to the local economy for negligible environmental benefit. The Warrego River which runs through the station to its junction with the Darling has a number of dams which are for stock and domestic purposes (not irrigation) for Toorale and some of its neighbours. These dams all have huge pipes low in the river bed and if these pipes are kept open the water will run freely to the Darling and effectively replicates natural conditions. No additional water to the Darling would be obtained by the removal of the dams and banks. When there is too much water for the pipes/river to carry the river overflows to the west, waters a magnificent flood plain of over 20,000 acres with the overflow joining the Darling downstream of the main Warrego junction.
(David Boyd is the retired Chairman and CEO of Clyde Agriculture Limited the former owner of Toorale)