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Pumping in Bourke

Saturday, 7th March, 2020

By Craig Brealey

Irrigators at Bourke are being allowed to pump from the Darling River.

Yesterday an embargo that was meant to help the Darling fill down to Wentworth was lifted by the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment.

Last month the government also lifted embargoes on the northern rivers that had been imposed for the same purpose.

Wayne Smith of Karoola Station on the dry lower Darling, 59 kilometres south of Menindee, said he was disappointed but not surprised.

“I’m not happy but it was inevitable, I suppose,” said Mr Smith.

“However, if that 240 gigalitres hits Menindee, like they’re telling us, that will give us about 18 months’ supply of water, so we shouldn’t be too greedy,”  he said.

“They had a fair bit of rain up there on the weekend. The Bourke to Nyngan and Cobar roads are closed and there’s a big heap of water in the Warrego.”

If the promised volume reached Lake Wetherell it would be enough to fill the river to Wentworth, Mr Smith said, but some could be lost in Lake Pamamaroo.

“Last Friday, DPIE and Water NSW told us the Pamamaroo regulator was not sound.

The water could be in Menindee next week so there’s no time to fix the structures.

“That work should have been done months ago.”

Mr Smith welcomed the news from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority yesterday that block banks built in the river two years ago to keep a little water for the lower Darling stations and Pooncarie would be demolished.

They would have impeded the flow to Wentworth but, again, time was running out for that work as well, he said.

The MDBA told a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra that flows would be released into the lower Darling as soon as 200GL arrived at Menindee and that volume would be enough to keep it running for about 12 months.

While the big flows were good, they were temporary and the government should address the real reason why the Darling River kept running dry and had been empty for three years, Mr Smith said. 

The NSW Water Sharing Plan of 2012 for the Barwon-Darling let upstream irrigators take all the water whereas before they could only pump when the river was high.

They are also permitted to save 300 per cent of their annual allocation and extract that when the river flows.

“The Water Sharing Plan has to be rewritten to let the low flows through, and they should not be allowed to store it,” said Mr Smith.

“Just let it all through”.

He also said that even with all the water coming down, not much would remain.

“It will only leave about 80 giglitres in Menindee. That’s not enough”.

The lifting yesterday of the restriction south of the Culgoa River above Bourke was another example of the government doing the bidding of “the top end of town”, said the President of the Darling River Action Group, Ross Leddra.

Mr Leddra said the big cotton farms would be making the most of it.

“They’ll be going flat-out now,” he said. “It’s disgraceful.

“It will certainly slow the flows coming down the river.”

This week, Bourke Shire Council and Ian Cole, a councillor and executive director of the Barwon-Darling Water irrigators’ organisation, said the embargo should be lifted because more water than expected had come down the river and would exceed flow “targets” for Lake Wetherell.

The DPIE said yesterday it was “confident that critical downstream needs and the revised Lake Wetherell target of 200 gigalitres will be met.” 

Mr Leddra likened the DPIE’s decision to the lifting of the restriction on floodplain harvesting in the Gwydir and Namoi valleys last month.

In that matter, irrigators were invited by the DPIE to complain to the government that floodwaters might damage their farms if they were forbidden from directing them into their dams.

“Ian Cole and the top end of town rattled the cage and the New South Wales Government folded,” said Mr Leddra.

He said the government, by its decision, was reducing the flows promised to the Darling and must therefore revise its latest estimates.

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