ENVIRONMENTALISTS in outback NSW have blamed a reduction in flows down the Darling River on high water use by cotton growers.
Often grown when water was readily available, cotton had become a permanent crop among many farmers, even during droughts, Barney Stevens, secretary of the Darling River Action Group (DRAG) says.
Responding to a draft action plan by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), which proposes to reserve 2750 gigalitres of water annually to restore river health, Mr Stevens believes cotton growers are a big cause of the problem.
"Most of the water extracted in the Darling Basin is used to grow cotton," he said in a submission to the MDBA this week.
"This is what is destroying the river system in the Darling Basin."
Since 1960, Mr Stevens said the volume of water extracted from the Barwon-Darling river, and its tributaries in NSW and Queensland, had increased from 50 gigalitres to about 3200 gigalitres per annum.
"The scale of cotton irrigation in the northern basin is against the national interest, and is a negative in terms of food security," he said.
A 20-week consultation process on the authority's draft plan for management of the basin ends in mid-April.
Water minister Tony Burke will take a final draft plan to federal parliament.