A major campaign has today been launched by the Environment Centre NT, to protect the Northern Territory’s iconic rivers from the devastating impacts of large-scale cotton operations.

“The proposals being put forward are to establish large-scale cotton in the Territory, including clearing tens of thousands of hectares of bushland, and increasing large-scale irrigation. This could have disastrous impacts on our landscapes, rivers, wildlife and way of life,” said Jason Fowler from the Environment Centre NT.

“It’s extremely concerning to consider the threat to our water supply. A recent consultant’s report flagged the industry wants to create nearly 150,000 hectares of cotton, including 22,000 hectares of irrigated cotton. Around the world and in Australia there have been consistently disastrous outcomes for rivers, lakes and wetlands when large scale cotton becomes established.”

“Our tropical rivers are more sensitive to change than rivers in southern Australia because of the climate in Northern Australia. We have a long and extreme Dry season every year – one of the longest in the world. Irrigation systems take water that would be part of natural flows, resulting in rivers drying out prematurely in the Dry, and reducing beneficial floods in the Wet that fish like Barra and prawns depend on for breeding.”

“With every swimming pool full of water you take out of a Territory river or floodplain, there is less breeding of Barra and prawns. Territory fishers know that the big catches come after big wet seasons, because those big flows inundate the floodplains and bring down important nutrients and freshwater.”

“An independent assessment by the prestigious Australian Academy of Science assessed that the horrific mass fish kills along the Darling River last year were caused by over-extraction of water by irrigation upstream, stripping water from the river which was already impacted by drought. Many of these fish were decades old, and had obviously survived previous droughts,” said Mr. Fowler.

“We can’t let our iconic rivers like the Daly, Douglas and Roper be degraded and destroyed as has happened to the Darling River, and other rivers in southern Australia. Until the cotton industry can make the Darling and Murray Rivers healthy again they shouldn’t be allowed to move into our rivers in the Territory.”

“If large-scale cotton is allowed to take a foothold in the Top End, our fishing lifestyle, tourism jobs and cultural heritage will be at risk. The facts are simple – more irrigation from massive crops like cotton results in fewer fish, unhealthy rivers and destroyed ecosystems.”

The COTTON KILLS RIVER campaign is available at cottonkillsrivers.org.au

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