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Rebuilding the Territory’s economy must not come at the expense of our water

Massive disparity in water allocation caps and water use proposals herald warning for Top End rivers

Conservationists have today issued a warning to Territorians not to let the cotton industry use public funds to take hold in the Top End or weaken water and environmental safeguards, as the Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission prepares to release its final report.

“As we all get on with the job of rebuilding our economy, we must ensure that we protect and enhance the Northern Territory’s most valuable asset – our water, our pristine rivers and floodplains,” said Kirsty Howey, Co-Director of the Environment Centre NT.

“It’s been worrying to see such heavy lobbying from Big Cotton, who are convinced they can use taxpayer money to build a damaging and unsustainable industry. Large-scale cotton has been rejected by Territorians for many years, presents major risks to the environment and degrades our everyday enjoyment of our iconic rivers.”

“The disparity in the figures speak for themselves. The existing annual water allocations for the Katherine Tindal Plan is 38GL, and the Oolloo Dolostone is 97GL. And yet we’ve already heard that the Douglas-Daly expansion significantly driven by cotton is asking for 520GL. Where is this massive increase in water supposed to come from?”

“Large-scale cotton operations in the Territory will see bushland bulldozed and water extracted from already fully allocated supplies. The community is rightly concerned that Big Cotton will keep growing as they look to build 4 cotton gins over the next 8 years on the back of a push to weaken safeguards and exploit large gaps in Northern Territory regulations, including by clearing native vegetation, taking water from areas beyond these water allocation plans, and handing out the public’s water to irrigators for free. This is an unsustainable industry that benefits very few and does not create large numbers of local jobs.”

“The NT Government should think twice before wholeheartedly backing big cotton whilst ignoring the jobs that already rely on a healthy environment. There are huge economic opportunities in growing other sectors like recreational fishing, tourism, cultural tourism, mango farming and land management. We need the Government to listen to Aboriginal communities, to representatives of existing sustainable industries, and to local fishers right across the region.”

“We can’t let our iconic rivers like the Daly, Adelaide and Roper be degraded and destroyed as has happened to the Darling River, and other rivers in southern Australia. What the Territory needs right now is sensible, sustainable strategies and better protections to build our future - not taxpayer-funded projects or weakened safeguards that will wreck our rivers,” she concluded.


Key figures:

  • Katherine Tindal Limestone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan - Total Estimated Sustainable Yield 38GL/yr
  • Oolloo Dolostone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan - Total Estimated Sustainable Yield 97GL/yr
  • Proposed industry extraction plan for Douglas-Daly – 520GL and pathway to 4 cotton gins. Read Plan here


Map showing tenure and allocation plans across Daly River Basin (Centre for Conservation Geography): Map

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