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Water rights story captures media attention

Traditional Owners of the Roper River catchment made headlines in November when ABC TV 7.30 NT featured a story on their struggle for water rights and economic development.

NAILSMA CEO Joe Morrison also featured in the story, which was filmed during a visit to Ngukurr community. NAILSMA and the Northern Land Council have been working with Traditional Owners to better inform policy-making decisions affecting water resource management on their country, and to persuade the government to reinstate the Strategic Indigenous Reserve.

During the visit, Traditional Owners Kevin, Walter and Clarry Rogers expressed their concerns about over-allocation affecting the flow of the springs that are the source of the Roper River, particularly during the late dry season. Scientific studies show that if flow is reduced too much during the dry season, it may allow tidal saltwater to come further up the river, affecting the supply of fresh water for Ngukurr. As Mr Morrison added, ‘The fact that Ngukurr’s water supply is already being affected is a great concern’.

The Yugul Mangi Development Aboriginal Corporation (YMD) is hoping to start a small commercial farm just outside of Ngukurr, to provide the community with fresh fruit and vegetables as well as to provide a sustainable source of local jobs and income. However YMD CEO Bill Blackley said any impact on the local natural supply of fresh water will impede irrigation for the proposed farm. ‘We can’t irrigate our crops with brackish water’, he explained.

Traditional Owners Marjorie Hall, Valmai Roberts, Marianne Roberts and Sheila Conway raised concerns about the importance of groundwater to maintaining important cultural sites and stories. Marjorie Hall told the ABC that mines in the region use large amounts of water, but because mining activities are excluded from the NT Water Act, mining companies do not have to account for their water use or even apply for a licence to extract water. Mrs Hall spoke of her fears that the combination of over-allocation and unlicensed water use will cause important sites such as springs, billabongs and creeks to dry up. ‘We all need water, for life’, she said.

Earlier this year, the NAILSMA Indigenous Water Policy Group released a policy position paper on a Strategic Indigenous Reserve, after six years of extensive research and consultation. These reserves are an amount of water set aside in water allocation plans, to be used for Indigenous economic development purposes.

However, in October, the Northern Territory Government announced that Strategic Indigenous Reserves will be reviewed in three years' time. Traditional Owners for the Roper River catchment have serious concerns about the impacts of this policy, and they told the ABC that the Northern Territory Government’s sudden interest in allowing licences for large amounts of water to be granted to a few proponents will leave them without the Strategic Indigenous Reserve, needed for their future use and wellbeing. 

You can view the entire ABC TV video online here.