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Anger mounts over pipeline business case

Saturday, 17th August, 2019

By Craig Brealey

Household water bills could rise by $2000 a year to pay for the Wentworth pipeline and Broken Hill people must not suffer it, Mayor Darriea Turley said yesterday.

The full business case for the pipeline revealed that figure and the NSW Government’s intention to recoup the cost of the $467 million project from local water users.

So far the only thing the government has said about the revelation that the pipeline was built at the behest of the cotton industry is that it saved Broken Hill from the drought.

Mayor Turley said the government’s refusal to admit to misleading the public was to be expected but its insistence that Broken Hill was, as a spokesman for the Water Minister said this week, “the biggest beneficiary” of the pipeline, was insulting. 

“I am not shocked and I’m not surprised that the pipeline was engineered for big-end cotton growers, although there are good irrigators who are probably just as angry as we are,” Ms Turley told the BDT yesterday.

“But for this government to imply that we should be grateful for the pipeline that we never needed, that was built with complete disregard for the environment, the ecology of the river and for everyone who lives on it, from Brewarrina to Wentworth, is just insulting,” she said.

Trying to pass the cost onto locals who, by and large, did not want the pipeline and cannot afford to pay for it added injury to the insult, the mayor said.

“Broken Hill always struggled over summer, we have had water restrictions but we always managed it from our supply for the Menindee Lakes.

“This government engineered the destruction of the Darling River and drained the lakes to try and make the case for the pipeline.”

The NSW Government is covering the cost of supplying the city from the pipeline for the next three years but there are no guarantees after that.

Former Water Minister Niall Blair and Deputy Premier John Barilaro announced the moratorium in October last year. 

“I wrote to Niall Blair at the time and asked that he remove the charges permanently, and remove them from the election cycle,” said Ms Turley. (The next state election is due in three years).

“We should not be made to pay the government’s bill for giving the Menindee Lakes to big irrigation companies.”

Ms Turley accused the government of misleading people and causing disagreement in the city.

“The pipeline decision divided the people of Broken Hill because this government sold us a story about how it was all about securing our water supply.

“We were told outrageous lies and the river is now in crisis.

“Shame on this government. The state of the Darling River is absolutely criminal and it is clear from the business case that no thought was ever given to the people.

“The Barkindji, the people of Menindee, everyone on the Lower Darling - none of them were considered at all in the business case.

“This was one of the biggest infrastructure projects in New South Wales, and it was pushed through quickly with hardly any consultation because the government had already made its decision to sacrifice the Darling River, the lakes and all the small communities.”

The government is under pressure from the Natural Resources Commission and the Commonwealth inquiry into the mass fish kills that found the destruction of the river was caused mainly by the over-allocation of water to upstream irrigators.

Each report recommended that the low and medium flows, which NSW let the irrigators take, be restored immediately to save the river

The NSW Government might also face legal action, the mayor said.

“One wonders if a class action will come of this.

“Broken Hill City Council has already had discussions with one particular group  who are investigating a class action, although Council will not be a party to it.

“But we have to keep fighting, with a united voice, to save the Darling River.

“The flows and the ecology must be restored in the river and the Menindee Lakes.”

The Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, was contacted for comment on Thursday and the BDT is awaiting a reply.

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