Friday, 1st July, 2011
By Kurtis Eichler
A deal struck between the Prime Minister and the former Premier of NSW to take water from the Menindee Lakes for the Murray River is now “dead in the water”, says the new State Government.
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed between former Labor Premier Kristina Keneally and PM Julia Gillard in June last year to help the Murray, reduce evaporation in the lakes and save 200 gigalitres per year.
The plan was to have Broken Hill’s water supply come from an underground aquifer instead of the lakes and this prompted 6,684 people to sign a petition in protest.
On a day trip to the city yesterday, NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, announced that the State Government had withdrawn its support for the plan.
Ms Hodgkinson said she had met many people who were upset with the plan and she was pleased to announce its end.
“I think that it’s great news not only for the local community as far as its water needs are concerned but also obviously for future tourism options for the area as well,” she said.
Ms Hodgkinson said she wanted to have a look at the Menindee Lakes and meet with Essential Energy and the City Council to discuss the options for Broken Hill’s water supply.
“That MOU was met with some grief in the local community. People were expressing their opinions that they didn’t want their water source coming from an aquifer,” she said.
“They were concerned about downstream water needs during particularly dry times and also the additional levels of salt that were going to be heading down the river into South Australia.
“So I’m here today to say that MOU is effectively dead in the water.”
Ms Hodgkinson, who visited the city only three weeks ago, said the Government was now discussing with stakeholders alternative options including installing a regulator between Cawndilla and Menindee lakes.
“The proposal we’ve put forward is to have a regulator between Menindee and Cawndilla to increase regulated flows and there are some other parts to that equation as well.
“It won’t result in the level of water savings that we would have seen under the original proposal, however we will still have savings of between 38 and 80 gigalitres, which is good effective saving whilst at the same time ensuring that the water supply for the residents of Broken Hill comes from a source they approve.”
The minister couldn’t say when construction of the regulator would begin other than it would not be for “a year or two.”
“At the moment it’s very wet so I don’t think you’re going to get a bulldozer in there.”
She said stakeholders such as the Darling River Action Group and City Council will be “fully consulted.”
“That’s one of the reasons I’m in Broken Hill today.
“Certainly it’s been met with some enthusiasm particularly when compared with the original deal that was struck between the former Labor premier and the Prime Minister.”
She said the original proposal was priced at close to $167 million of Commonwealth funding.
“The option will cost around one third of that, once again Commonwealth funding. It’s important to remember that we want to make sure that we are taking a triple bottom line approach to this and that the community most importantly is happy with the outcome that they finally have.”
Ms Hodgkinson described Menindee Lakes as a “terrific tourist attraction.”
“One of the detrimental aspects of the proposal under the original MOU was that the two lower lakes were going to be shut down.
“Now, it’s incredibly popular. I’m from an area in the Central West of NSW, we all know Menindee Lakes, everybody wants to come and visit one day but they want to see a system which is environmentally sound, not one that has necessarily been shut down.”
The Darling River Action Group’s chairman, Mark Hutton said his meeting with the minister yesterday morning was “quite a productive one.”
“It (the MOU) was never going to work in the first place,” he told the BDT.
He said the amount of water the governments wanted to save from the Menindee Lakes wasn’t possible due to the size of the system.
“So really it wouldn’t have done anything for the environment.”
Mr Hutton also rubbished the assertion that evaporation was high in the Lakes, insisting evaporation in lakes up-stream was at double that of Menindee.
“It happens everywhere.”