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Despair as pipeline test justifies flows

Saturday, 12th January, 2019

Hundreds of thousands of dead native fish are rotting in the Darling River near Menindee. PICTURE: Supplied Hundreds of thousands of dead native fish are rotting in the Darling River near Menindee. PICTURE: Supplied

By Emily McInerney

The Menindee Lakes system’s heart only beats once a day, a local advocate has said, adding that WaterNSW is now “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by releasing what little flows are left from Lake Wetherell.

WaterNSW announced yesterday afternoon that releases into the upper stretches of the Lower Darling can be extended.

They said the decision follows the first successful phase of testing for the Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline.

However water advocate and Darling River Action Group member, Mark Hutton said these flows could be the death of the whole Lakes system.

“They are saying they can put more water down in the Lower Darling from Lake Wetherell because they are ahead of their timeline for the pipeline.

“They only have enough water in Lake Wetherell to put through the weir until the end of the month.

“That will leave Wetherell a bare minimum, there will be barely enough water to keep the fish alive.

“The flows will only be a small increase with a very small degree making its way down the Darling, passed Weir 32 and onto Pooncarie.

“It’s won’t oxygenate the water, it won’t save the water.

“As temperatures reach 40 degrees, there won’t be any fish, yabbies or turtles left alive in that 50km stretch.”

Mr Hutton said irrigators did need water but it won’t be enough.

Four block banks built to extend supply at key points along the Lower Darling are now holding water to meet the basic needs of local landholders.

“They are robbing Peter to pay Paul, the less water there is - the more it will heat up and then there will be fish kills in Lake Wetherell.

“Irrigators do need water and they have put in block banks to keep water, it will only last until June.”

 

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With the pipeline project easily passing the first of its testing and commissioning phases, that deadline has been extended to the end of January.

WaterNSW estimates that with continued drought conditions and zero inflows into the lakes it can deliver a minimum of 50 megalitres per day to properties between Weir 32 and the first block bank at Karoola in the upper stretch of the Lower Darling until the end of January.

“I think the system had to die, before something could be done,” Mr Hutton said.

“It is the terrible truth.”

Feedback from local grape-growers had indicated that the Australia Day weekend is a key watering period so the ability to meet that requirement was a timely benefit, WaterNSW executive manager Adrian Langdon said.

“Growing confidence around the scheduling for the pipeline means that we can slightly relax our worst-case scenario timeframes and extend supply to the river’s upper reaches,” Mr Langdon said.

“While it is vital to be conservative around allocating water resources, we recognise that the pipeline’s progress is bringing water security to Broken Hill on time, and that is enabling us to extend supply to a key group of producers at a crucial time.”

Mr Hutton said by providing a reliable water source, they have effectively killed the river system.

“They are just patting themselves on the back, now we have a reliable water supply, but they have killed the river.

“It’s heart only beats once a day.

“If you asked any Broken Hill resident if they would swap a reliable water source for a full Lakes.

“They would tell you to stick that water source up your arse, they would rather have a Lakes system.

“It is a criminal act, they have picked the most iconic river system in Australia to do it to.”

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