New hope for lakes

Tuesday, 21st March, 2017

By Emily Roberts

Suggested improvements to Menindee Lakes have been described by a water advocate in the town as a win for everyone.

Local State MP Kevin Humphries announced yesterday that he was setting the scene for the next stage of water reform in the Far West, putting on the table his outline to deliver Stage 3 which would leave more water for Menindee.

Mr Humphries said Stage 1 was always about fast tracking an emergency water back-up supply for Broken Hill, which was completed with works at the interconnecting channel at Copi Hollow and water bores.

“With that complete, work also began on the big project, Stage 2, and the long term security of Broken Hill’s water supply to be achieved by the construction of the Murray/Broken Hill water pipeline,” he said.

“With that project well underway and tenders for construction being sought by the Project Manager, Water NSW, it is now time to progress with State 3.

“I have proposed with authorities for some time, Stage 3. the reconfiguration for the Menindee-Cawndilla system, which will deliver greater security for the local/regional community, based on greater water retention in Lake Menindee.”

Mr Humphries said he proposed that funding from the Federal Government be used to build a substantial regulator, at Morton Boolka, controlling flows between Lakes Menindee and Cawndilla.

“During large flood intakes into the lakes, flows would continue as normal with the regulator closed off at Morton Boolka once Lake Cawndilla is full,” he said.

“Water in Lake Menindee would be retained at 80 per cent with the top 20 per cent allocated as part of down-stream negotiated requirements.

“During smaller intakes into the lakes, the regulator would remain closed with a concentration of water stored in Lake Menindee.

“If Lake Menindee achieves 80 per cent plus storage levels, the trigger for flow-through would apply to cater for further down-stream requirements.”

While the detail and flow-through rules need greater discussion, it is a pathway Mr Humphries will be pursuing with his colleagues in the NSW Government, the Federal Government and the MDBA.

“In effect, this project would see Lake Menindee categorised as part of the top lake system with Pamamaroo and Wetherell.

“The advantage is far greater water security for the Menindee precinct which would sustain the local amenity, create opportunities for tourism growth, alternative high value agriculture and significant environmental and cultural outcomes. 

“The benefit for downstream users is that they would see more consistent flows in the Lower Darling and potentially South Australian users as well.”

Chairman of the Menindee Water Consultative Group, Karen Page, said this was a win for all involved.

“I see this as a step in the right direction. I just hope it’s not going to result in all talk,” she said.

“This is the win-win solution that we need.

“What Kevin Humphries is proposing for the future of the Menindee Lakes Scheme is what we have wanted for many, many years.”

Mrs Page’s concern was how it would be received in parliament.

“I would be interested to know how Kevin is going to proceed with getting the proposal approved through parliament,” she said.

“If it gets approval will it be set in cement for the works to have a time frame for the works to be done. 

“We have seen many studies done on the Menindee Lakes Scheme for the past 20 years that have resulted in getting government funding for the works, but it has gone by the wayside and never happened.

“I hope that this proposal will come to fruition and can happen sooner rather than later to benefit the communities of the Darling River below Bourke.”

Mrs Page said while the lakes were slowly dwindling a plan like this had potential.

“It was (successful) in the past before the current plan was put in place, especially if the environmental flows in the future will be drawn from Cawndilla,” she said.

Mr Humphries proposal replaces the 640-480 gigalitre rule with a simple re-allocation; Lake Menindee at 80 per cent or less remains in NSW control with only minor downstream requirements; the top 20 per cent (200 gigs) given over to downstream and end of system flow.

Cawndilla would be given over to MDBA (750 gigs) to meet further end of system requirements if that is their intention.

This would require further work at the Pinnelco Channel which connects Cawndilla back to the Lower Darling.

“Better outcomes for all can be achieved by managing water more efficiently when it is available, with infrastructure improvements and water management rules that better reflect current opportunities and future demands,” Mr Humphries said.

“It is time to drill down in the detail and get on with Stage 3 of the water journey for the Far West that I outlined with the community three years ago.”

The proposal has been discussed at a preliminary level with local water advocates and representatives and they are keen to work together and advance the proposition with all relevant authorities and stakeholders.