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No river, no talks

Wednesday, 12th February, 2020

Water levels in the Darling River are continuing to drastically decrease with the Barkindji Native Title Group now backing down from any future talks on the Menindee Lakes project until the river flows again. PICTURE: Myles Burt Water levels in the Darling River are continuing to drastically decrease with the Barkindji Native Title Group now backing down from any future talks on the Menindee Lakes project until the river flows again. PICTURE: Myles Burt

By Callum Marshall and Craig Brealey

Aboriginal people on the Darling River have withdrawn from negotiations about the controversial Menindee Lakes project until there is water in the river again.

The Barkindji Native Title Group Aboriginal Corporation (BNTGAC) yesterday informed the NSW Water Minister that talks about the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) project have ceased until flows return to the Darling/Baaka.

In an email sent to Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, yesterday BNTGAC’s CEO Derek Hardman said a Health of the River forum held in Menindee had passed this motion on Monday.

The email has also been sent to federal Water Minister, Keith Pitt, and Murray-Darling Basin Authority CEO Phillip Glyde.

The forum included more than 50 local community stakeholders and was facilitated by the National Indigenous Australian Agency (Western NSW) in partnership with the BNTAGC.

Mr Hardman’s email to Minister Pavey also says that “the BNTGAC asks that you consider and support this motion.” 

He said yesterday that they wanted to see natural flows make their way down to the river towns and into the lakes.

“That motion was that we’re no longer negotiating around the SDL stuff until they allow the river to flow from one end to the other, without any extractions coming from it,” Mr Hardman said.

“We don’t want to entertain any of the motions that people can take water from it.

“We want a natural flow to go back through the rivers and our lakes.”

He said the human right to water had to be put before the greed of individuals like water traders and the irrigation industry. 

“We need it, not just in the river, but the environment, our community, just the people. Us as human beings need it first and foremost,” said Mr Hardman.

“And we’ve got nothing. A lot of our towns have run out of water or are on bore water. 

“Getting the natural flow back in our river is more important than somebody pumping it somewhere else for other purposes.

“People come before anything else - industry or someone’s entitlement. Human entitlements and that flow is essential, first and foremost.

“And to try and lift any pumping embargoes or whatever else is just plain ridiculous.”

Mr Hardmann said everyone would suffer if those flows didn’t make it down from the Darling’s tributaries in northern NSW and Queensland which are in flood.

“Our people up and down the river, not just Barkindji people but everyone, are going to suffer if we don’t get that flow.

“We don’t want our lakes as an option to save water. We want our lakes and river back to how they were.”

The Menindee Lakes Project is part of the NSW’s Government’s commitment to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It proposes to reduce the lakes to little more than a storage for drought and to immediately release any water that flows into them. 

The SA Royal Commission last year found that the ancient lakes - wetlands of international importance - should never have been proposed for such a “savings” project.

“I’m sure there’s other SDL projects they’ve identified,” Mr Hardman said. 

“They can look at those as well in more scrutiny rather than just bypassing our lakes.”

Monday’s community forum in Menindee included a range of participants - the Barkindji native title members, stakeholders, members of the Darling River Action Group (DRAG), and different government departments. 

Last week the Queensland Government announced that it was letting irrigators on the Condamine-Balonne rivers, a major tributary of the Darling, fill their dams from the floods.

The water ministers of NSW and Victoria said the water should be allowed to flow downstream and they have asked the federal water minister to stop Queensland from pumping.

They have also requested the intervention of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the MDB Inspector-General, Mick Keelty.

The administrator of the Central Darling Shire council, Bob Stewart, said yesterday that it was drafting a letter of protest to the federal Water Minister.

“Won’t be happy until the Darling flows again to the Murray at Wentworth to ensure connectivity in the system,” Mr Stewart said.

“The first flush does us no good because it is dirty, and so is the second,” he said.

Mr Stewart said the situation at Wilcannia was now so bad that the council was seeking to employ a desalination plant because the river water was too poor and the bore water had risen in salinity.

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s office was contacted for comment on all the matters. 

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