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Final pitch to protect wild Kimberley river as draft water deal looms

Giovanni Torre -

Opponents to plans to unlock the Martuwarra Fitzroy River's vast water resource for intensive agriculture have rallied on a remote Kimberley bridge as the release of a draft catchment management report looms.

Protestors gathered on Willare Bridge near Derby on Sunday to call for Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan to protect the National Heritage-listed river.

The State Government last year put forward two proposals for water management in the Fitzroy Valley, with a draft report expected to be handed down in the next three months.

One plan would allow for up to 108.5gL of groundwater extraction per year, while the other allows staged surface water extraction of 300GL on top of this.

Critics argue proposals by pastoral leaseholders in the area to pump more than 375 billion litres of water from the river will destroy Martuwarra's unique ecosystems.

Advocates are concerned that Aboriginal people haven't been supported to speak about the Fitzroy River. Photo supplied.

Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation chairman Robert Watson said Traditional Owners did not support any of proposed intensive agriculture developments on the river.

"Our position on this is centred around learning from the previous developments we have seen worldwide and in Australia," he said.

"Projects like this go ahead, with all the best intentions and with people with expertise weighing in, and 25 years later we see irreversible environmental destruction.

"What we would like to see is decisions based on a good balance that weighs the input from different stakeholders along the Fitzroy River."

Mr Watson said he did not want to leave a legacy of environmental destruction for the next generation.

A WA Government spokesperson said it was committed creating the Fitzroy River National Park, developing a management plan for the Fitzroy River, and not allowing the river or its tributaries to be dammed.

"The proposed Fitzroy National Park is currently being co-designed with Traditional Owners and where agreed, will extend to include nearby Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, other historic sites and existing and potential tourism and recreation areas," the spokesperson said.

Kimberley Traditional Owners protesting the cultural heritage bill and the Government's plans to develop the Fitzroy River catchment. Photo by Hannah Cross.

"Planning for the sustainable management of water resources in the Fitzroy River Catchment is building on years of community planning, new and improving science by both State and the Australian Governments and consultation with Traditional Owners and stakeholders.

"Widespread consultation has been undertaken with Traditional Owners and other stakeholders, as well as being open for public feedback."

Environs Kimberley Director Martin Pritchard said irrigation proposals would turn Martuwarra into the next Murray-Darling.

Mr Pritchard said doing so would damage the river's potential as a tourism magnet.

A recent Curtin University report found $43 million in tourism income could be generated if the Fitzroy River National Park was expanded, with 160 new full-time jobs created.

A 2018 CSIRO report found 1700GL of surface water could be pumped from the Fitzroy River each year.


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