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No quick river fix

Monday, 18th May, 2009

By Stefan Delatovic

There was no easy fix to the woes of the Darling River, according to Stan Dineen.

Mr Dineen is a member of the Lower Darling River Catchment Management Authority and recently took part in the body's Darling River Review Tour. The tour brought people involved in the water resources sector along, and sought to give them a first hand look at how flows are used along the Darling and where they go.

The 18-strong group visited St George, Cubbie Station, Bourke and Broken Hill. Mr Dineen described it as a "look, listen and learn" exercise. "I gained a lot of knowledge and the irrigators and water users we met along the way told us what they see as the major problems," he said. "Those were the losses to evaporation at Menindee Lakes, whether the lower lakes in South Australia are fresh or salt water and their right to irrigate their land just like NSW and Victoria." Irrigators - and the massive Cubbie Station in particular - are often held up by those downstream as the source of the river's ills. Not so, according to Mr Dineen. "There isn't enough water, but who should give it up? Should the wine growers? The cotton farmers?" Said Mr Dineen. "All users, urban and industry, need to take out less water I think, as a start." Mr Dineen said everyone was doing the right thing, and there was no downstream bogeyman stealing water - it's a more complex issue. "The area they have developed for irrigation over there does appear very large, but it's not all used each season, they rest their paddocks". Touring Cubbie Station and bending the ear of operators had been an informative experience, Mr Dineen said. Cubbie's vast storages are 60 kilometres long, with 500 kilometres of channels. It holds a number of extraction licences, purchased over the years through public process. It plants cotton but last year diversified into wheat. "I would say Cubbie is a very good, very transparent, very efficient organisation. they're on the cutting edge of the irrigation industry," said Mr Dineen. "If they weren't there, I'm sure there would be six or eight others in their place using more water. "According to Cubbie they have a negligible impact on the area, and they have scientific evidence to demonstrate this. "I'm not critical of them, I'm critical of the amount of water that's taken out of the system." Mr Dineen said he heard strong arguments for a more efficient method of storing Broken Hill's water supply. "Menindee Lakes holds 250,000 megalitres to guarantee Broken Hill 18 months' supply. We use 6,500 ML a year and a huge amount is lost to evaporation," he said. "There is no danger to the city's storages, but they argue strongly for a better way." Mr Dineen said the trip had allowed all involved a better understanding of the issues and each others point of view. "I hope eventually we can sort something out and take it to the Government."

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