The Clarence River at Tabulam is low.
The Clarence River at Tabulam is low. Susanna Freymark

'BLOODY DISASTER': Grazier, community opposed to diversion

A PROPOSAL to dam the headwaters of the Clarence River would be a "bloody disaster", says a grazier whose family has lived on the river since 1880.

Trevor Wingfield said the flow in the river at his property at Fine Flower was the worst he had seen since the 1990-94 drought.

"I can drive across the river on my motorbike and the water doesn't even cover the tyres on the bike," he said.

"The ABC came out to shoot some footage to use on the Country Hour and I was able to ride my motorbike along the river and barely wet the wheels.

"Normally there would be three to four foot of water in the river at this time of the year."

Mr Wingfield rates the current water flows as worse than the 1990s drought. "It took from 1990 to '94 for the flows in the river to get so low. This time it's only been about 14 months."

He said taking any water out of the system during drought times would be disastrous and farmers along the Clarence would fight it.

"If they try anything, they've got a big fight on their hands," he said.

"I've got a heap of women from around here behind me and they're not going to take a backward step.

"I call this my river. I was reared on it and my family has seen all that's happened on it since the 1880s.

"The Aboriginals told my grandparents things about this river no-one knows now. There's nothing anyone can tell me about the Clarence River."

Clarence Valley Mayor Jim Simmons was also adamant no water would be leaving the Clarence for a long time.

Cr Simmons said not one of the Southern Downs, Toowoomba, Western Downs and Tenterfield Shire councils had contacted the Clarence Valley about a proposal to pipe water inland from the Clarence headwaters.

"It's a little surprising they've gone so far down the track without involving us," Cr Simmons said.

"Neither State Government has contacted us either."

He said the council would defend the region against any attempts to take water out of the Clarence catchment.

"The attitude here is pretty strongly against it and if there was to be any change in policy we would have to thoroughly consult the community," he said.

Cr Simmons said people who saw the tidal reaches of the Clarence River at Grafton or in the Lower Clarence would have a different view if they saw it north of Copmanhurst.

"They would see some pretty shallow flows in the river," he said.

He said the Clarence Valley's water supply came from the Nymboida River and the Shannon Creek Dam, which supplies water to the Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour.

Cr Simmons said the Valley was now enjoying the benefits of planning for the future, which other areas perhaps needed to emulate.

"The problem for these councils is this plan won't help them now," Cr Simmons said.

"The lead time in consultation and planning, plus the construction of the infrastructure that would include water-conveying infrastructure as well as any dams will take a long time."

Cr Simmons said the Clarence catchment would need all the water unless there was good rain soon.

"We were out opening a bridge on the Old Glen Innes Rd recently and I saw the creek bed was completely dry," he said.

"We might not be in a position to be giving up any of our water pretty soon."

The man who kicked off the Not ADrop campaign to keep the Clarence River flowing, former Daily Examiner editor Peter Ellem, said his position has not changed since those days.

Mr Ellem, a Clarence Valley councillor, said he preferred to leave commentary on the latest developments to the Mayor, but was on record opposing any river diversion proposals.

The Clarence Valley's drinking water supplies look good for now, with the Nymboida River flow of 236 ML/day feeding consumption of 18.17 ML/day. The Shannon Creek Dam is at 97 per cent capacity.