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Aquifer shelved

Saturday, 19th March, 2011

The plan to store the city’s water supply in an aquifer has been “put on the shelf” because it is too expensive, according to the NSW Water Corporation.

The welcome news was delivered at a public information meeting held in the city yesterday to discuss the Menindee Lakes.

The Federal Government’s proposal to drain Lake Menindee and store Broken Hill’s water underground had been put on hold, said the head of the State Water Corporation, George Warner. 

The corporation is in charge of the Menindee Lakes and the CEO, Mr Warner, said the message that he was getting from locals was to keep the water in lakes Cawndilla and Menindee.

“I think the resounding message from the people out west is ‘for heaven’s sake don’t dry out Cawndilla and Menindee and don’t even partially dry it out’ ... that is the message we are getting loud and clear,” he said.

“The message we are trying to give back to them is State Water and others (like the) Office of Water will continue to look at ways to save water out here until we come to a landing with some really worthwhile water savings projects.”

At the meeting the question of whether the aquifer would go ahead was asked by the Darling River Action Group’s (DRAG) chairman Mark Hutton.

Mr Warner replied that the basic infrastructure of the aquifer was too expensive.

“There was too much uncertainty to say ‘let’s go ahead and dry the lakes’,” he said.

“Managing aquifer recharge, which is used around the world in different places in different sorts of water, is when you take water, when there is plenty and inject it into the ground and later on you recover it when you need it.

“You hope the aquifer you are using is contained and concealed.

“Some very promising research was done by Geoscience Australia. It just wasn’t at the stage where it appeared to be cheap enough to recover the water or absolutely secure enough to say ‘well we can move on with confidence’ that is not to say it will go away ... it is a proposal well worth looking at.”

Mr Warner said the plan to develop the aquifer would not go ahead in the near future.

“No, but, I think the research will be so important when we look forward as to how do we provide secure water to outback communities in hot areas that have two to two-and-a-half metres of evaporation a year,” he said.

Mr Warner said the public response to the aquifer plan was one of distaste.

“My limited understanding, because I don’t live out here, was that it was notoriously unpopular, but maybe it wasn’t sold well, maybe a better understanding is required, maybe some education is required, 

“It is not part of the current thinking but I think the research is going to be important to shape the future water supply, not just in Broken Hill but in other remote rural locations.”

Mr Hutton said he was a bit angry that the NSW Government had neglected to tell the local community of the decision to put the plan on hold.

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“(Aquifers) are good ideas in certain places, but not out here ... this is due to the fact there is not enough users to pay for infrastructure,” Mr Hutton said.

“The Darling River is a reliable water source.”

Local Federal MP, Sussan Ley, said the decision didn’t come as a surprise.

“It doesn’t surprise me State Water has tipped cold water on this aquifer,” Ms Ley said.

“The CEO knows how unpopular it was and he correctly notes the research comes up well short as the ‘fix all’ solution for our region. 

“I trust the Federal Water Minister will take on board the NSW Authority’s views. 

“Given the remaining water quality questions and the enormous cost of such a project, it certainly should not happen anytime soon, if at all.”


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