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Listing the lakes

Saturday, 19th February, 2011

By Gina Wilson

 Listing the Menindee Lakes as an internationally significant wetland could save it from the threat of closure, DRAG said.

In an effort to return 200 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling Basin, the NSW and federal governments last year committed to reduce evaporation and make structural and operational changes at the lakes.

Boosting an-already promised $400 million for Darling River water savings, the Federal Government in 2009 pledged $16 million to find an aquifer to use and store water for Broken Hill’s supply.

While progress on using the aquifer has stalled due to wet weather, Far West Regional Development Australia (RDA) has continued its fight to have the lakes included on the Ramsar list of internationally significant wetlands.

Last week RDA hosted another meeting of interested parties with the area to be listed now beginning to take shape on a map.

The Darling River Action Group’s (DRAG) Barney Stevens, who attended the meeting, said this might be one of the only ways to save the lakes.

“The real threat to the lakes is the idea of storing Broken Hill’s water supply in an aquifer,” Mr Stevens said.

“In dry times this would allow water authorities to drain all of the lakes, including Lake Wetherell.

“The lakes would then cease to be the refuge they have become for fish and other aquatic species, and water birds, since most of the other wetlands in the Darling Basin have been destroyed.

“Ramsar listing might influence the authorities to think twice before they drain all of the lakes.”

Both local MPs, Sussan Ley and John Williams, have previously voiced their opposition to the idea of using an aquifer to supply the city’s water saying that was already being capably done.

When visiting the city this week Ms Ley said Menindee had been a key point of interest at meetings she had attended as part of a committee investigating the social and economic impacts of the proposed changes to the Murray Darling Basin.

“It is absolutely one of the key things in this whole inquiry because whatever comes from Queensland comes through Menindee and offsets what comes along the Murray. It is absolutely vital.”

With Menindee Lakes often the political meat in the sandwich between people up and downstream, Ms Ley said getting people to visit the lakes was imperative.

She said a Ramsar listing could make that option more appealing to people.

“The fact that there is an option on the table that could close down the lower two lakes means that everyone who views that as a possibility should come and take a look,” Ms Ley said.

“I think (the Ramsar listing) will be a good thing because it will make people recognise that is essentially not a man-made system.

“There are man-made aspects to it but it is in its own right a world class wetland no different from the (Ramsar listed Barmah Forest).”

 

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