Wednesday, 27th February, 2019
By Callum Marshall
The Wentworth to Broken Hill Pipeline was officially turned on yesterday by Deputy Premier John Barilaro, local MP Kevin Humphries, Nationals’ Barwon candidate Andrew Schier and WaterNSW CEO David Harris.
With WaterNSW staff, pipeline contractors, councillors from Broken Hill and Wentworth and the media in attendance, Mr Barilaro and Mr Humphries spoke about the pipeline securing clean water for Broken Hill.
They also briefly discussed the legacy of the project, which Mr Barilaro compared to the Snowy Hydro Scheme.
“The people of Broken Hill have had to endure water restrictions for a very long time so this pipeline couldn’t have come soon enough,” said Mr Barilaro.
“The case behind building this significant piece of infrastructure - $470 million dollar cost and 270 kilometres - was to bring water security to Broken Hill and the region,” he said.
“We’ve had environmental impact studies, we’ve done all the work and the research and we believe that this will be the right outcome for the people of Broken Hill and, I would hope, (have) minimal impact on the Murray.
“The reality is, is that people have to be put first and this pipeline is timely.
“So I think the people of Broken Hill will be feeling a sigh of relief today when we turn the valves on.”
CEO of WaterNSW David Harris said he was proud of what the project had would deliver in terms of the water and employment.
“As leaders of the project we’re extremely proud today to have delivered this pipeline under budget and, more importantly, ahead of time,” Mr Harris said.
“Since January the project team have been doing commissioning testing of all the parts, and we now move into proof-of-performance.
“That is basically putting all those parts together and delivering water into Essential Water’s Mica Street Treatment Plant.
“From today they’ll be receiving that water and distributing and treating it, and distributing that across Broken Hill.
“The pipeline can deliver 37.4 megalitres of water a day, peak flow. It’ll be able to maintain that maximum flow rate during the summer.
“We’re also going to hit our target of $50 million local spend across both Broken Hill and Wentworth.
“But I think the most pleasing thing is that we had 151 locals working with our joint venture partners during the construction, and we’ve now got two-thirds of our (Operations and Management) team with local employees as well.”
Yesterday’s ceremony follows years of local anger surrounding the project however, with City Council requesting a moratorium on its construction and calling for the full Business Plan to be released.
Last year a petition against the pipeline was tabled in state parliament with more than 13,000 signatures.
There’s also been longstanding local concern that the pipeline would act as an excuse for the state government to do what they want with Menindee Lakes and the Darling River, a claim the Deputy Premier refuted.
“There’s been a lot of debate about Menindee Lakes. We will never decommission the lakes and if you actually go back to 2010 it was then-Premier Kristina Keneally that signed an agreement, an MOU with Julia Gillard, to decommission Menindee Lakes,” said Mr Barilaro.
“A lot of people have a lot to say in this space but we want a healthy river system.
“We support the lakes and water for Broken Hill, and our track record shows clearly we’re doing what we said we’ll do.
“Others will play gossip in this space but the reality here is that it’s a tough time for everybody.
“If it doesn’t rain our water is going to be a challenge right across the state, not just the river systems here in the north.
“When 99 per cent of the state’s in drought, this is impacting on the communities, on the environment and on irrigators.”
When it was put to Mr Barilaro that drought was only a part of the water crisis, and that the recent Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin found mismanagement of the Darling River and Menindee Lakes, he dismissed the report’s findings.
“The Royal Commission was biased towards South Australia,” he said.
“I’m not going to put our rivers and communities (at the call) of South Australia.”
Another concern about the pipeline was its ongoing operational costs, with residents concerned they’ll have to foot the bill given that the government has, so far only announced that the first four year’s will be waived.
Broken Hill councillor Maureen Clark, who attended yesterday’s ceremony, said the cost was a worry for everyone in the city.
“We have only been promised four years free of payment for this pipeline and Broken Hill residents should not be responsible for paying for the pipeline at all,” said Clr Clark..
“What I would dearly love is a guarantee from this government that Broken Hill residents will not pay for this pipeline at any time in the future.
“My other concern is that Broken Hill people may become complacent, and that while they’re all enjoying the fruits of the pipeline, we mustn’t take our eye off the Darling River and the Menindee Lakes.
“That is a real concern for us. The people we entrusted with this river and the management of the river and lakes either took their eye off the ball or they did completely the wrong thing. And they have let us down.
“We would not be in the mess we are today if it was not for those people.
“But we are welcoming the water from the pipeline and looking forward to getting off water restrictions.”
On the issue of costs to locals and whether he’d be willing to legislate that residents not pay were the Coalition to be re-elected Mr Barilaro said it was something the party would be ‘happy to have a look at.’
“We’ve committed for the first four years but there’s still a bit of work there,” he said.
“IPART have put up their view. There’s a draft report to come, but at the end of the day four years is not bad.
“There’ll be another election we’ll have to face and I think the pressure will be on us. But we’re happy to have a look at all of that.
“I can’t commit to that right now but there’s no reason that we can’t have an approach here where the impact of the cost of the pipeline isn’t put onto the water users of Broken Hill.
“We know that, we accept that, that’s why we intervened.
“We overrode the IPART recommendations and as a government we’re accountable to the people of Broken Hill, we’re accountable to the taxpayer and we’ll make those decisions as we go ahead.
“But for the next four years it’s guaranteed, so let’s have that conversation if we get over the election because at the moment no one else is talking about it.”