Walgett mother Kylie McKenzie had no idea that the water coming out of her taps was slowly destroying her son Xander’s immune system.
- Kylie McKenzie’s son Xander suffered dehydration due to high sodium levels in Walgett’s tap water
- Indigenous leaders made impassioned pleas to Water Minister Rose Jackson about the state of the river system in NSW
- The minister made no concrete promises, but hinted sweeping water reforms were on the table
New South Wales Water Minister Rose Jackson met Ms McKenzie and other residents on Friday to hear their concerns about water quality in the town.
Following the meeting, Ms Jackson announced that Walgett’s water supply would be switched from the bore back to the river by Wednesday as a “short-term” measure.
Aboriginal elders are demanding a more permanent solution to ensure the long-term health of the river system and water security for the community.
The town’s water treatment plant has failed to handle turbidity and blue-green algae in the Namoi River, meaning the town has had to rely on poor-quality bore water for the past five years.
The high sodium levels in the bore water have been deemed unsafe for people with chronic illnesses such as Ms McKenzie’s son, who has brain deformations and eats through a tube.
“In summer he was constantly dehydrated and we didn’t know why,” Ms McKenzie said.
“Now we know — we were just pumping sodium through him.
“We’re trying to keep him hydrated, thinking we were doing the right thing. We weren’t.”
‘We’re river people’
Aboriginal leaders from the Dharriwaa Elders Group have asked the minister for sweeping reforms to protect the river.
Those demands include enforceable extraction limits, higher penalties for water theft, a priority for end-of-system flows, an annual independent audit of water management, and a maximum of 20 milligrams per litre of sodium for Walgett’s drinking water.
Vanessa Hickey of the Dharriwaa Elders Group broke down in tears while describing the condition of the river to Ms Jackson.
Ms Hickey said she could remember swimming in the Barwon and Namoi Rivers as a small girl, back when the system was full of yabbies.
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“Us Aboriginal people, especially out Walgett way, we’re river people,” she said.
“Our responsibility is to care for our country and care for our totems.
“We, the Aboriginal people, have done nothing to do this, and now we’re suffering.
“You’ve got dams, you’ve cotton farms, you’ve got coal seam gas, you’ve got floodplain harvesting — how are our rivers going to recover when they keep on taking?”
Ms Jackson did not make an announcement at the meeting meeting that would address the long-term systemic problems facing the river system.
She said there was an appetite for sweeping water reform in the new government, including enforceable limits on water extraction.
“Our river systems are very sick and that is the result of decades of inaction,” Ms Jackson said.
“We do want a reset on how our rivers are managed.
“We do want a reset on NSW’s commitments under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.”