Protect The Roper River

I am writing to you as a Northern Territory citizen concerned about the future of the Roper River.

Our cherished Roper River and the interconnected Limmen Bight Marine Park are cornerstones of our natural heritage, offering unmatched ecological, cultural, and economic value. These two areas support the mud crab and prawn fisheries, as well as some of the best recreational and tourism fishing the Territory has to offer! The river system and extensive seagrass meadows are home to turtle and dugong, and endangered sawfish and speartooth shark.

Yet, these Northern Territory icons face escalating threats from multiple fronts, including the proposed expansions in water extraction and land use changes.

Critical Values Under Threat:

The Roper River is the lifeblood of the Limmen Bight Marine Park. These natural icons support a rich array of wildlife including barramundi, mud crabs, and prawns, and threatened species such as dugong and turtles. They support key industries such as the mudcrab and parwn fisheries, as well as recreational and tourism fishing. All of which are integral to our local economy and Top End lifestyle. Yet, these ecosystems are under threat:

  • The Georgina Wiso Water Allocation Plan proposes to extract up to a staggering 210 billion litres of groundwater annually. This is the largest water allocation plan in the Northern Territory's history. The Georgina Wiso Basin contributes cross basin flow to the Roper.
  • The Draft Mataranka Tindall Limestone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan proposes to extract 62 billion litres from the underground aquifer system which supports the Roper River and the iconic springs of Elsey National Park, Rainbow and Bitter Springs.
  • An Ilmenite mine has been granted 1649ML per year from the Roper.
  • The proposed Roper Valley Iron Ore mine wants to take two billion litres of water from the Roper River annually, and build a 400m long dam on the Hodgson River catchment, which also flows into the Roper.
  • Now the new CSIRO report says it is possible to have up to 3.9 million hectares of irrigated crops such as cotton, taking up to 660 billion litres of surface water from the river, and could involve up to five in-stream dams, including a hydroelectric dam on the Wilton River near Ngukurr.

These actions pose irreversible risks to the ecological balance of the whole system and what we hold as important:- our precious marine megafauna like dugong, fisheries, tourism economy, and our unique outdoor lifestyle.

Comprehensive Ecological Concerns:

The cumulative effects of increased water extraction combined with massive land clearing and infrastructure developments like dams could lead to severe degradation of the Roper River’s ability to support its natural biodiversity and maintain its ecological functions.

The proposed extensive impacts to the Roper catchment and river flow threaten the receiving environments in Limmen Bight Marine Park by disrupting sediment transport, thermal regimes, and nutrient cycling essential for the health of coastal and marine life. Local seagrass meadows, home to turtles and the NT's largest dugong population, depend on healthy river flows. Moreover, this region is part of the last global stronghold for endangered sawfish and one of the world’s rarest shark species, the speartooth shark:- degradation of their habitat will push them closer to extinction.

The Roper River and Limmen Bight are too precious to risk:

Considering the severe risks, I urge you to take the following actions:

  • Reject the current draft Mataranka Tindall Limestone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan.
  • Prohibit any further increases in water extraction from the Roper River catchment.
  • Implement new strengthened protections for our river systems to ensure rivers like the Roper are protected against any future plans for large-scale land clearing, infrastructure developments, dams and water extraction.
  • Roper communities, including those downstream, to be included in all water joint-decision making.

Healthy rivers and coasts are central to our Top End way of life, the Territory recreational fishing experience and our economy. As such, they deserve the highest level of protection and stewardship.

Please accept this as my submission to the Draft Mataranka Tindall Limestone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan.