In a development that acutely highlights the almost impossible task that confronts the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, the much vaunted 'liberation' of the dammed up waters on Toorale Station near Bourke cannot occur at present, because the 'wetlands' created by the dams are now the nesting areas of ibis and brolgas, which are protected species.
The story was carried in todays Australian Newspaper, (subscription required) and quotes an officer of the Office of Environment and Heritage explaining that the Toorale dams - which have been there for up to 100 years - push water onto the floodplain and create habitat for birds and fish. Removing the dams would result in the water 'just running down the river'. The article explains that Toorale is being managed under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act, which requires the NSW government to protect the environment and items of Aboriginal and European heritage, which would include the dam walls that were built in the 1880s.
Toorale was purchased in 2008 by the Australian and NSW governments for $24 million, with the promise that between 20 and 80 thousand megalitres of water would be returned to the Darling river each year. However, it appears that only around 10% of that water is likely to be available for release.
As was discussed in a research report commissioned by the Australian Farm Institute, this is just one of many examples of the extremely difficult decisions that will face the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder - the official owner of all the water entitlements purchased from irrigators as part of the reform process for the Murray Darling Basin. Apart from trying to avoid damage to 'wetlands', the CEWH has to avoid flooding farms and towns with environmental water releases, manage releases to avoid flow limitations such as the Barmah Choke, work out whether or not to trade environmental water entitlements with irrigators at different times, and ultimately try to manage the water holdings to achieve environmental outcomes. Not a task for the faint-hearted or thin skinned!