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Immediate action needed: Council tells Water Minister

Monday, 9th March, 2009

By Gina Wilson

City Council wants a firm commitment from the Federal Government that work on the Darling River would begin soon after final studies on water savings are completed in October.

General Manager Frank Zaknich impressed upon the Minister for Water, Senator Penny Wong, when he met her on Wednesday, the importance of immediate action on capital works.

He said a prompt start would give the city confidence in the years of study that had been undertaken, and would be one way to save Broken Hill from its employment and economic slump. "Once the final decision is made and an option adopted it shouldn't be used to make another study," Mr Zaknich said. "There will be significant employment opportunities out of it and Broken Hill and the regional sector, we're suffering - mining, farming, irrigation. "This could mean re-employing locals and regional residents and there is an urgent need. "We need them to commit to capital works on the ground as soon as possible as we've certainly got the skill base and the labor in the region to undertake it. "It's one of the two key projects to get us back on track. "The longer it takes the less confidence the community will have (that) outcomes (can be) achieved." Mr Zaknich met Senator Wong during her three-day northern Murray-Darling Basin tour when she announced a $16 million study into exploring the use of a managed aquifer to secure Broken Hill's water supply. He said while it appeared to be worth investigation, the price was a genuine consideration as it would be residents who bore the cost. "Whatever option for the Menindee Lakes is decided it needs to have regard to securing Broken Hill's water supply and to (ensuring) operational and

maintenance costs aren't excessive as they are passed onto the consumer." Mr Zaknich also told the Water Minister that those saying the lakes were losing water at extremely high rates through evaporation were ill-informed as the lakes had been dry for so long. "I stressed to the Minister that point," he said. "They had not been full for many years, so that's a bit of a - it's missing the point." Mr Zaknich said concerns from some locals that this could spell the end of Menindee Lakes were ill-founded. "That's just a nonsense and certainly not one of the options that has come out," he said. "As far as we're aware there's been no suggestions to close the lakes down. "It's (about) using the lakes in more effective and efficient ways." Mr Zaknich also asked MS Wong to consider bringing other works not related to the water savings project forward. He said a study to see if a channel could be put into the bottom of Lake Pamamaroo to allow it to be drained could be done now while the lake was dry. He said a channel would allow the water to be used when the lake was fuller, reducing evaporation rates and ensuring a better quality of water. "It's taking far too long to get it out of there," he said. "We are losing some of it in evaporation. "We still need water for bird life and the environment but it would allow us to use the water more effectively. "It is more efficient to get the water back into the river for the downstream users or for the environment. "It should be able to be brought forward as it won't affect the studies.

"She was keen for that idea and I am confident she's taken it on board to consider it."

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