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Drained of a future

Tuesday, 21st January, 2020

Barwon MP Roy Butler Barwon MP Roy Butler

By Craig Brealey

The volume of water that the NSW Government proposes to keep in the Menindee lakes showed it had no regard for their importance as wetlands of world significance, local State MP Roy Butler said yesterday.

Under the Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project, inflows would be released immediately via a much larger outlet regulator and the massive storage become nothing more than a small reserve in the event of drought. 

Mr Butler said the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, which is pushing this proposal as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, was ignoring the wishes of locals who wanted the lakes restored.  

Tomorrow, Mr Butler will once again visit Menindee but this time with his Shooters, Fishers and Farmers colleague, Phil Donato, the MP for Orange.

They will meet with the members of the local Stakeholders Advisory Group with which the DPIE is meant to be consulting about its plans for the lakes.

Mr Butler said he spoke regularly to the Advisory Group and therefore knew about their suspicion that the department intended to ram its plans through regardless of the consequences.

The group has asked the DPIE to electronically record the meetings because the minutes provided by the department were not an accurate account of what had been said.

Mr Butler said his duty as an MP was to try to bring about what his constituents wanted, and in the case of the Menindee lakes that was its restoration.

“For Menindee lakes the policy is the restoration, improvement and maintenance of the lakes system as the storage for the Lower Darling,” he said.

The Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, recently said she wanted more water held in the lakes but Mr Butler said it was still not nearly enough.

“It’s gone from 60 to 90 to 300 gigalitres but the system normally holds 1740 gigalitres and has a surcharge of 2200,” he said.

“My best advice is you need 300 to 400 gigalitres just to wet the bottom of the lakes.

“Three hundred gigalitres is a long way from the original proposal but it is not what the locals want. It is not enough for the people on the river, for agriculture or for the cultural purposes of the Aboriginal people.”

The DPIE had shown through its consulation meetings with the Advisory Group that it had no regard for any of that, Mr Butler said.

“There is no focus on economic development and no consideration of environmental issues.

“Menindee lakes are very important wetlands; some would say the most significant outside of Kakadu.

“If this was a bigger population area you would have huge groups of people calling this environmental vandalism.”

The lakes are not only a nursery for native fish in the Murray-Darling river system but a breeding ground for native and migratory birds from all over the world.

“Water birds live on average for seven years, but it they can’t breed this will have a huge impact,” Mr Butler said.

In Menindee tomorrow he and Mr Donato will be taken on a tour of the lakes system, attend a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with the Stakeholder Advisory Group, and meet the public in Maiden’s Hotel.

On Thursday morning they will help with the relocation of Murray cod and visit the residents of Sunset Strip.

“Phil has always been an ally for the west. He is our party’s only Member of the Legislative Assembly and he supported water and transport subsidies.

“I always encourage any state or federal members to come out west - it doesn’t matter what party - so they can understand what is going on when it comes to voting on things.

“It’s too easy for people who don’t see it and only hear about it to think there is not a problem.”

Yesterday the NSW Government announced that it would maintain its embargo on irrigators pumping from the Darling River’s tributaries in northern NSW, including the Barwon and Namoi.

The embargo was called to give flows resulting from heavy rain in Queensland the chance of coming down the Darling but it is only in place until the end of this month.

Mr Butler said he expected the ban to last longer.

“I think they might extend the embargo if there is still a good chance of rain in the catchment,” he said.

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