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Basin Plan benefits in 20 years

Saturday, 15th February, 2020

By Craig Brealey

It could be 20 years before the benefits of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan flowed into the Darling River, Phillip Glyde, the Chief Executive of the MDBA, has told a meeting in Menindee.

“I’ll be dead,” replied someone in the room-full of local “stakeholders” that were invited to the meeting at the Maiden’s Hotel on Wednesday last week.

Mr Glyde told them he had come back to Menindee “for a look” and to discuss their concerns.

He soon learnt that they had as much faith in the Basin Authority as they had in the NSW Government, its detested Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project and in the consultation meetings with the local “Stakeholder Advisory Group”.

The corrupted Basin Plan and the NSW Government had wrecked Menindee and the other river towns, Mr Glyde was told, through the “stupidity” of running the river dry and draining the lakes. 

Generations of grape growers had lost their livelihoods, business was suffering, families had left town, no-one could sell their house in town or at Sunset Strip.

It was suggested the people making the decisions that had caused all this (“bureaucrats, politicians, number-shufflers, paper-spinners who don’t know shit”) should live in Menindee for 12 months.

Mr Glyde replied that the damage was becoming “apparent now” and that the Commonwealth had allocated $200 million for “community assistance”. 

That’s from the $13 billion for the Basin Plan: Mr Glyde said the rest was being spent on “improving the efficiency” of irrigation farms.

The Commonwealth recently paid $30 million to buy the water licences from families who had orchards on the lower Darling but no water. Mr Glyde was asked why farmers with the same licences above Weir 32 had not received an offer.

“I don’t know,” he said.

The Menindee Lakes project aims to take 106 gigalitres out of the lakes - that is one fifth of the total “savings” in the entire Basin. Why were the lakes being made to bear the biggest cost? Mr Glyde was asked.

He said they were too shallow and lost too much to evaporation, and that’s why they were emptied as soon as they filled.

“We have to maximise the benefits as quickly as we can because it’s the least efficient (storage),” he said. 

It was quickly pointed out to him that their average depth was seven metres compared to four in the lower Lakes in South Australia.

New cotton dams on the Hay Plain are two metres deep.

Mr Glyde sympathised with the locals’ suspicion that their objections to the Menindee Lakes project and their recommendations would be disregarded and the works forced through, just like the Wentworth pipeline.

He urged them to keep consulting with the NSW Government.

“We want a much more efficient operation of the Menindee Lakes system for a happy community and a happy environment,” Mr Glyde said.

“Unfortunately, we can’t commit to that but what we can do it encourage you to participate in the process ... bring forward your ideas,” he said.

“I know there is not much faith in the New South Wales Government, and I can see why you’re sceptical (but) if you pull out they’re still going to go ahead with it.”

One “stakeholder” replied that they’d had three meetings - 18 hours of talks - with the bureaucrats (“these planners, these squeezers”) “and they haven’t even discussed the lakes yet”.

“I think everyone in New South Wales knows the consultation process over the last seven years has been pretty average,” Mr Glyde said.

He also said that NSW was the only Basin state to have not submitted its water savings plans to the MDBA.

“New South Wales remains the only child in the classroom that hasn’t done their homework,” he said.

He was asked if he could offer anything to restore confidence in the Basin Plan and Menindee in particular.

“That’s a really hard question,” said Mr Glyde.

“I’ve got an answer for you,” came a voice. “Put some water in the river.”

Mr Glyde urged everyone to stick with the Basin Plan because when it was finished there would “20 per cent more water” in the river system.

“You can’t correct 100 years of over-allocation in the Northern Basin overnight. “There’s drought and we’re still arguing over what we agreed to with the Plan in 2012.

“To make these reforms of this size will take a long time. You won’t see the benefits for 15 or 20 years.”

“I’ll be dead,” said a man in the crowd.

“I hoped you’ve learnt it’s pretty tough out here at the best of times,” said another.

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