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Water request denied

Tuesday, 6th May, 2008

The NSW Government has ruled out additional water releases from Menindee Lakes to support the Lower Lakes in South Australia. The decision dashes the hopes of some communities and irrigators in South Australia who have been asking for up to 400 gigalitres of water to be released from the lakes.

But NSW Water Minister Nathan Rees said yesterday that the water in Menindee Lakes was "fully committed" to meet critical human, stock and irrigation needs in all three Murray Valley states, including SA.

"Unfortunately some people in South Australia don't seem to understand that the Menindee Lakes is a finite resource - all water held in the lakes is fully committed to meet critical needs in the 2008/09 water year, including the water supplies for Broken Hill," Mr Rees said.

"The NSW Government is managing the Menindee Lakes system to best meet the critical water needs of downstream users in the NSW, Victorian and South Australian Murray Valleys.

"One third of the water held in the lakes is being released into the Murray River to help supply water for towns, stock and domestic users, and critical water-dependent industries, such as permanent plantings, along the length of the River system."

Mr Rees said in order to release more water for SA's Lower Lakes the government would need to take water from towns, landholders and high security licensees, and not provide carry-over to users.

"This could have disastrous effects given that the Murray Valley communities are already running on empty," he said.

"Releasing water to South Australia's lower lakes would jeopardise the delivery of water for critical human needs over the next 12 months."

He said if current conditions prevail and NSW released more than two thirds of the water held in Menindee Lake as suggested by some, many

Murray Valley communities could run out of drinking water supplies and the $9 billion Basin economy would be out under even more severe threat.

Transferring water from Menindee Lakes would also result in high transmission losses.

The CSIRO has estimated that evaporation and transmission losses could account for up to 50 per cent of releases, according to Mr Rees.

The Minister said that the NSW Government was doing all it could to make more water available for Murray River water users downstream of the Menindee Lakes.

"NSW recently changed the Lower Daring River trade rules to enable water to be temporarily traded out of the system, making more water available to licensees in all Murray Valley states.

"In addition, the Iemma Government is leading the fight to restore river health in the entire Murray Darling Basin."

Mr Rees also noted that in 2005/06 and 2006/07 South Australia diverted more water than NSW Murray Valley users because the NSW Government's policy is to use less water in dry years, while sustaining critical water-dependent industries.

He said South Australian Premier Mike Rann was quoted recently saying that transfers from Menindee Lakes to the Lower Lakes would probably be the most irresponsible act of any Australian Premier in history.

Meanwhile, a group of SA parliamentarians now has a better understanding of the role of Menindee Lakes, according to the Darling River Action Group (DRAG).

The group of seven, a mix of MPs and MLCs who are members of the government's Natural Resources committee, spent Monday morning at the lakes as part of a fact-finding tour of the Darling River.

DRAG secretary Brian "Barney" Stevens, who joined the tour, said yesterday that while the visit was brief, it was very informative.

"It was the first time that some of the people had seen Lake Menindee. They got an understanding of how vast it is and how shallow," he said.

"It gave them a good idea of how the lakes operate and why decisions are taken.

"It will assist the South Australian Government to make an informed decision."

DRAG used the visit as an opportunity to highlight the existence of a number of huge private storages further up the river system in northern NSW and southern Queensland.

"I was able to point out that Cubby Station holds three quarters of the volume of Lake Menindee," Mr Stevens said.

"So that gave people a concept of how much water is stored upstream.

"Some DRAG members suggested that South Australia might consider buying some cotton farms.

"Instead of building a desalination plant you could buy a lot of cotton farms."

Mr Stevens said there were three main groups competing for the water in Menindee: Adelaide and other towns, Murray irrigators and the Coorong.

"The water that's in Menindee won't service all these people.

"It was pointed out if the water was used for Lake Alexandrina there won't be anything left for irrigators or domestic (supplies).

"If people from South Australia get to use this water in Lake Alexandrina it won't solve the problem because people in Adelaide will go thirsty."

While some South Australians are demanding water be released from Menindee, Mr Stevens said not so long ago 100 gigalitres was allowed to flow past Menindee and into the southern state.

"It could have gone straight into Lake Menindee (but) it would have just sat in the residual pool. So South Australia has benefitted from that decision."

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