NO BUSINESS CASE: Michael McCabe of Capricorn Conservation Committee speaks out against the Rookwood Weir project.
NO BUSINESS CASE: Michael McCabe of Capricorn Conservation Committee speaks out against the Rookwood Weir project. Jann Houley

Rookwood slammed as 'economic white elephant of jobs'

THE Capricorn Conservation Council has been raising the alarm for many years now over the "unacceptable risk" to Rockhampton's drinking water if the proposed Rookwood Weir project goes ahead.

But too often the "economic white elephant" of jobs and growth is used to muddy the waters, CCC coordinator Mr McCabe said.

He was responding to an article in The Morning Bulletin on Wednesday in which Capricorn MP Michelle Landry said "We want this project going so let's stop the mud slinging and just get moving".

The Lower Fitzroy Infrastructure project, designed to provide back-up water for Awoonga Dam to supply cattle feed lots, is based on "outdated projected industrial growth", according to a 2016 Conservation Council report.

"The Rookwood Weir has been a political plaything since Peter Beattie promised piggeries and cattle feed lots as far back as 2005," the report said.

"Given the Fitzroy's soil studies, which show less than 5 per cent are suitable for irrigation, plus the lack of takers for the existing 20,000ML water supply, it would be a very 'courageous' (Yes) Minister who commits us to another failed water scheme."

Mr McCabe said similar projects all over Queensland were fouling up the waterways while they failed to deliver.

He said the "best thing" Campbell Newman ever did was to cancel the Connors River Dam project after Moranbah mining companies couldn't afford to pay for it.

"There is no business case for the Rookwood Weir unless Gladstone buys 36,000 mega litres, which they don't need and can't afford.

"Look at Alton Downs: there's already 20,000 megalitres available to pump from the barrage for agriculture but no-one's buying it.

"The water's too expensive, the electricity's too expensive, the roads and infrastructure aren't good enough.

"The mango farmer's selling up, the lychee farmers aren't doing well."

He said the health of the entire Fitzroy system, which rises out past Injune at the bottom of the Carnarvon plateau, relies on minute changes in flow and temperature.

"Floods come and go every hundred years but the health of the Fitzroy river system relies on the less spectacular variance in seasonal flow," he said.

"Disrupting it will cause major water quality issues and ecological changes to the river even before anyone tries to intensify agriculture."

Specifically, he said it could wipe out the local "bum breathing" turtle species, threaten recreational fishing and create the risk of increasingly toxic algal bloom.

Mr McCabe warned species like barramundi were failing to negotiate "fish ladders" such as the one on the barrage, which is costing taxpayers a million dollars to fix.

"They spawn at sea as far out as Heron Island and then they migrate up the river system," Mr McCabe said.

"After the 2008 flood purged bacterial-laden water into the creeks, it smelled so bad locals thought the sewage system had broken down," he said.

"Metre-long, 25-year-old barramundi, which were waiting to be swept out to sea, effectively drowned from a lack of dissolved oxygen."

He said construction of yet another weir would push water back to stagnate in the thousands of gullies and creeks that dry out between wet seasons.

"We've had reports of toxic blue-green algae in this region since 2010," he said.

"Whether due to drought or mismanagement, pools of stagnant water get flushed out during flood times and this stuff will kill cattle, kill anything in its path.

"It'll kill you if you drink it."

Mr McCabe borrows the metaphor of the river as the region's "liver" that purifies our water, extracting good and bad.

He said politicians don't want to listen or understand in this era of short-term political cycles and the eight-second media bite.

"I was a a greenie long before the word 'greenie' came about and it's got nothing to do with the Greens party," he said.

"If you can't breathe the air you die, if you can't drink the water you die, if you can't eat food because you don't have good healthy soil, you die.

"Everyone is a greenie but they just don't know it."

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