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Minister approves lakes project

Saturday, 5th September, 2020

Katharine McBride, with son Michael, rejoice as water flows into the lower Darling in March this year. Yesterday, she said Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt had rung “the death knell” for the river. PICTURE: Supplied Katharine McBride, with son Michael, rejoice as water flows into the lower Darling in March this year. Yesterday, she said Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt had rung “the death knell” for the river. PICTURE: Supplied

By Craig Brealey

Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt has approved measures that include the destructive Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project, but his decision will be fought all the way, according to locals.

The NSW Government’s proposal to reduce the ancient lakes to a drought reserve and to empty them as quickly as they fill has been rejected outright by the Broken Hill, Wentworth and Central Darling Shire councils.

Darling River residents have refused to attend any more meetings with State Government bureaucrats running the proposal until it can be proved that there will be any water in the river to fill the lakes.

The project has not been finalised and the state government has yet to state how much water it wants kept in the lakes; the numbers vary between 80 gigalitres and 300.

However, yesterday Mr Pitt announced the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to recover 605 gigalitres from the river system would go ahead.

The Menindee Lakes project is the biggest of all the water saving proposals in the Basin and it stands to lose 105GL a year. 

Mr Pitt did not mention a report on Thursday that found trillions of litres of water meant for the environment had disappeared from the Basin between 2012 and last year (see page 3).

Over-allocation to irrigators on the Darling’s tributaries, water theft, and the failure of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to measure the take were found to among the reasons for the unaccounted loss.

But Mr Pitt, a Nationals MP from Queensland, said yesterday that the Commonwealth would no longer buy water licences back from irrigators.

Katharine McBride, from Tolarno Station on the lower Darling, said he had rung “the death knell” for the river and the lakes.

“The minister said he wanted ‘community-led solutions’ to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and here he is pushing ahead with the largest supply measure in the Basin, and the community is outright opposed to it,” said Ms McBride. 

She is a member of the Stakeholder Advisory Group that had been consulting with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. 

All but one of the 20 member groups have withdrawn from the process. Their decision was relayed last month to Mr Pitt and the NSW Water Minister.

“The stakeholders have been pretty clear that the proposal for the lakes is unacceptable and that the options don’t cut the mustard until we see flows coming down from the northern basin,” Ms McBride said.

“If this goes through it will be the death knell for the Menindee lakes and the Darling, so we are not giving up,” she said. 

Ross Leddra, President of the Darling River Action Group (DRAG), said Mr Pitt’s decision showed how little government cared about the people of the West Darling.

“They are willing to sacrifice all the river towns,” Mr Leddra said. “They’re killing the river, killed our agriculture, and fed us lies all the way.

“In every town on the Darling, the population has about halved in the last two years. These were thriving towns.”

Mr Leddra said the river people lacked proper political representation.

Council elections in the Central Darling Shire had been denied by the NSW Government, and “none of our MPs live in the area”, he said.

The DRAG has close to 1000 members and thousands more followers on social media, and Mr Leddra said people around the world now knew about the Menindee Lakes after suffocation of millions of fish in the river.

“If Mr Pitt follows down this path we will be doing our best to get the story out, because governments hate having the truth out in the media,” he said.

Mr Pitt told the Barrier Truth that “the Commonwealth is not forcing any projects on any Murray-Darling Basin community.

“A key part of the reforms I’ve announced is to work with states to adopt a more flexible and consultative approach with local communities to ensure that all projects are in line with local expectations,” he said.

“While buybacks provide a short-term fix, the consistent feedback from stakeholders throughout the Murray-Darling Basin is that they take water and jobs out of communities. The priority of these reforms is to put communities and jobs back at the heart of the Basin Plan.”

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