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Inquiry chair tours Lake Menindee

Wednesday, 9th September, 2020

Cate Faehrmann MP (centre) with Kate McBride and Darryn Clifton from the Darling River Action Group on what used to be Lake Menindee at Sunset Strip. PICTURE: Supplied Cate Faehrmann MP (centre) with Kate McBride and Darryn Clifton from the Darling River Action Group on what used to be Lake Menindee at Sunset Strip. PICTURE: Supplied

By Craig Brealey

If governments reckoned that the Darling River and Menindee lakes could survive the extraction of even more water then they were ignorant or deluded, says the chair of an NSW Upper House inquiry into plans for more building more dams in the north.

Cate Faehrmann yesterday finished a six-day tour of the Riverina, Murray and Western NSW.

The Greens MP and environment and water spokesperson described what she saw on the Darling River and Menindee, and Sunset Strip on the lakes, as “heartbreaking”. 

“This was my third visit and I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Ms Faehrmann said.

“The last time I was at Sunset Strip there was water in Lake Menindee and now it’s dead,” she said.

“Families and retirees invested their savings in a cottage by the water and the government decided to drain the lakes. No compensation was offered for their loss and that really is a crime.

“Ideally, water would be returned to the river and the lakes, and if they’re not prepared to do that, then they must pay up.

“It is a story I will be telling a lot in the next few months.”

The Upper House inquiry will examine the details behind the NSW Government’s attempt to fast-track dams and weirs in the northern Murray-Darling Basin, Ms Faehrmann said.

“Proposing more weirs and dams as a solution to the crisis is crazy.

“These projects will take 770 gigalitres and hold it upstream. There is not much information available publicly and that’s one of the reasons for my trip and the main reason for the inquiry.

“They want to take that much water and it beggars belief that there are no environmental impact studies or any examination of alternatives to building dams.

“It is being fast-tracked under cover of the COVID pandemic. The inquiry has the power to call for all documents and business cases - if they exist -  and to examine the alternatives.”

Ms Faehrmann’s trip began just before the federal Water Minister, Keith Pitt, announced last week that the Commonwealth would not buy water from irrigators but would return it to the environment by way of measures such as the Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project.

“That is ludicrous,” she said. “Buybacks are voluntary anyway. Is the government suggesting that everything is fine? Mr Pitt said that 95 per cent of the Murray -Darling Basin Plan was there. Really? Only if you take the Darling River out of the system.

“The Basin is a beautifully interconnected system yet we have communities fighting for survival and the livelihoods of thousands of people and the Menindee lakes and native fish under imminent threat.

“It is extraordinary that no action is being taken to solve this diabolical problem.”

During her tour Ms Faehrmann held meetings in Wentworth and with landholders Allan Whyte and Rob McBride up the river to Menindee. She also visited the Member for Murray, Helen Dalton, in Griffith to discuss the state government’s management of water.

“It is a disgrace,” she said, “and a crime committed against a lot of people.

“This is a river under stress, and everyone I met told me that the floods would have reached the Darling if the water wasn’t taken by floodplain harvesting.”

It would have filled the lakes and it was a shame that visitors on holiday there were mislead by the government into thinking they were full, she said. 

“A few cars rocked up when I was there and I heard a couple from Bathurst say, ‘wow, I thought there would be more water than that!’ People are coming out here because the government said there was water in the lakes.

“These are people who are taking holidays in the bush because they can’t go overseas, and they are being disappointed and Menindee is losing out.” 

Ms Faehrmann said that, “COVID-willing”, the Upper House inquiry would hold one or two days of hearings in Menindee. 

“It is extremely important that we do so. The inquiry is due to report on March 22 but we will make recommendations before then if the government tries to fast-track its plans.”

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