Stick your plans
Wednesday, 31st October, 2018
By Craig Brealey
No-one wanted a bar of the plans for the Menindee Lakes, a delegation of water bureaucrats admitted yesterday.
The delegation from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, WaterNSW and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has held public meetings in Wentworth and Pooncarie, and yesterday four more were held in Menindee and Sunset Strip.
“We have had robust and clear feedback from the meetings in Menindee and Wentworth,” Executive Director of Water for the NSW Department of Industry-Water, Rachel Connell, said in Sunset Strip before another hostile crowd.
One Strip resident declared at the start of the meeting in the community hall that he had a resolution for the delegation to take back to government.
“We want the lakes restored and the cotton licenses bought back.
“If you think that’s unbelievable, look out there,” he said, and pointed through the glass doors to the wide, brown flat that was Menindee Lake.
Fellow resident Ross Leddra called for the meetings to be abandoned due to the preliminary findings of the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission that were released yesterday.
“About an hour ago, the SA Royal Commission said the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was based on false and misleading science,” said Mr Leddra.
“All of these meetings should be suspended because people have been given false information and false figures.”
The Menindee Lakes Project was intended to reduce the surface area of the lakes to cut losses to evaporation, Paul Simpson, an independent consultant for Water NSW, told the meeting.
The aim, said Mr Simpson, was produce the “most benefit with the least impact.”
It would remove the deepest lake, Cawndilla, from the system and enlarge the outlet on Menindee Lake so that it could be emptied at the rate of 14,000 megalitres a day instead of the current 9000 ML.
The minimum reserve in lakes would be cut from 480 gigalitres to either 280GL or even 80. This would make irrigation on the Darling River between Menindee and Wentworth unviable and landholders would have to sell their water licenses.
Only the top three lakes would be used for storage and a regulator would be built on the Anabranch.
But the Basin Plan had already caused an “environmental disaster” from Bourke to Wentworth, said one Strip resident, who also asked why the Darling River was the only one suffering.
Executive Manager of Water NSW, Adrian Langdon, replied that the Namoi, Gwydir and Macquarie were also in trouble.
“The Namoi stopped in March. The Gwydir has only 20 per cent and there has been no allocation since 2016,” Mr Langdon said.
“That river system is drying up as quickly as it is here.”
Mr Langdon also defended the last rapid emptying of the Menindee Lakes in 2016.
“Nineteen thousand giglalitres flowed past Wilcannia and only 20 percent of that was let go,” he said.
But Mr Leddra said the lakes had always been managed by making slow releases, and that this practice had worked since the lakes system was built 60 years ago
“Menindee had big incomes, massive tourism and recreation which all created jobs as well,” he said. “Are we going to get them back?
“How are graziers going to feed their stock, their families, when you’ve taken the water out of the lakes?
“In Sunset Strip we have 130 houses. Some of the people who live here need to sell up so they can move into a retirement home or aged care, but you can’t give these houses away.
“Do you ever consider the human cost? This is more than a body of water.”
Broken Hill City Councillor, Tom Kennedy, said the Menindee Lakes Project and proposals to run pipelines down the Lower Darling was another con job.
“They said the Ananbranch was just a pipeline to be used in the drought. The Darling River will become a pipeline,” he said.
“You want to close Canwdilla, empty the lakes faster - and the residual pools -
and put pipelines in the Lower Darling, just to save 70 gigalitres in evaporation from the lakes?
“Just put us back to 2003 and we will be happy. In 2003 Menindee was being called ‘the next Mildura’. We just want our lakes and our river.
“Can you show me one thing in this plan that makes things better?”
A suggestion that a deep three-kilometre wide “pond” be constructed at Sunset Strip for a permanent supply of 20 gigalitres was taken up by the delegation as was another that Menindee Lake be maintained at 80 per cent of its capacity.
“The idea of these meetings is to get ideas,” said NSW Water Commissioner, Jock Laurie.
Mr Laurie said it was obvious that no-one wanted the lakes cut to 80 gigalitres and that would be conveyed to government as well.