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80GL not enough

Saturday, 29th December, 2018

By Craig Brealey

The 80-gigalitre drought reserve proposed for the Menindee Lakes was unrealistic because it would last only six months, according to local graziers. 

The reserve has been put forward by the NSW Government as part of its Menindee Water Saving Project.

But the Pastoralists’ Association of West Darling (PAWD) has said this $150 million project would be useless if no water came down the Darling.

PAWD, at its council meeting this month, reported that there was merit in putting a regulator between lakes Menindee and Cawndilla and enlarging the Menindee Lake outlet channel but, by and large, the project was unacceptable, ill-conceived and poorly explained.

In October, PAWD councillors met the Land and Water Commissioner and a delegation of NSW water policy and management officials.

The delegation had earlier held meetings in Wentworth, Pooncarie and Menindee to explain the project. At each meeting it was rejected outright.

Terry Smith, of Scarsdale Station, compiled a report for PAWD’s members on the meeting and described discussion with the delegates as “open and frank.”

“I believe the delegation left with a clear sense that a lot more consultation needs to happen with all communities along the river, both above and below the Menindee Lakes system, before any major changes are made,” Mr Smith reported.

“The current level of mistrust in the wider community surrounding the Basin Plan and river management practices ... will need to be addressed before the community actively and co-operatively engages in this process.” 

Mr Smith said the 80-gigalitre reserve could not meet the needs of the Lower Darling which had to sustain station properties, orchards, vineyards and the township of Pooncarie. 

“Eighty gigalitres is estimated to sustain the Lower Darling for as little as six months,” he said.

“A water reserve of two years’ useable water for Menindee and downstream would be a more palatable option.”

PAWD also told the government delegation that laws changed in 2012 to allow upstream irrigators in NSW to pump from flows that used to come down river had to be reinstated.  

Before 2012, irrigators were barred from taking these low and medium flows that had for years kept the Darling flowing.

“With the entire project costing $150 million, it would be of little use if there was no water in the lakes to save,” Mr Smith said.

The stated aim of the Menindee Lakes project was to save 106 gigalitres a year but the explanation of where that water would be held was “unclear,” he said.

“Some modelling has the water saved being stored in Hume Dam and released down the Murray system, further stressing that resource, or being stored at the top of the Darling system...”

If it was the latter, then the water could be taken by northern irrigators under the 2012 laws.

PAWD also told the delegation that another aspect of the project - forcing Lower Darling property holders to sell their water licenses - was unreasonable and unfair because it “did not represent the true value of the asset or the previous expenditure by farming businesses to develop orchards and vineyards.”

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