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Revived water plan divides opinion

Friday, 9th May, 2014

By Andrew Robertson

Abundant and good quality groundwater close to Menindee may be used to help ‘drought-proof’ Broken Hill. 

The groundwater forms part of detailed planning and scoping works underway into new infrastructure and operational changes proposed for the lakes. 

The Commonwealth is providing up to $800,000 in funding towards the study which is being overseen by the State Government and expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Both governments have said if implemented the measures could return on average up to 80 gigalitres of water a year to the system. 

No starting date has been set for the proposed changes, details of which have not been revealed.

But they could include building a regulator between the system’s two bottom lakes, Menindee and Cawndilla, and increasing the size of the main regulator.

This would mean more water could be stored in the upper lakes, reducing evaporation losses, and also allow for increased releases downstream.  

Substantial groundwater resources identified near Menindee may also be included as part of any changes.

Geoscience Australia estimates between 2100 and 4400 gigalitres of “fresh to acceptable quality” groundwater is stored below the Lakes in an enormous aquifer system.

The Broken Hill Managed Aquifer Recharge project was funded by the Commonwealth to find groundwater that could be used for Broken Hill in times of drought. 

Geoscience Australia released its findings at the end of last year.

It identified a priority site about 10km south of the Menindee township on Jimargil station. 

“Overall, the conjunctive management of surface water and groundwater involving managed aquifer recharge options at the Jimargil site would provide the greatest drought security for Broken Hill,” it said in its report.

Using a managed recharge aquifer (MRA) for Broken Hill would also mean less water would need to be held in the Menindee Lakes for the city’s supply needs. 

But the State Government yesterday confirmed it was opposed to the use of MRA, which involves the placement and storage of water in an aquifer for later use.  

However it has not ruled out supporting the use of groundwater at Jimargil for Broken Hill during drought.

Access to good quality groundwater would shield the city from the effects of drought which are predicted to become more frequent and extreme. 

“NSW will only use groundwater to supplement supply during drought and does not support managed aquifer recharge,” a spokesman for the NSW Office of Water said. 

Local MP John Williams told the BDT he remained opposed to the use of an aquifer to supply Broken Hill, and thought the idea was dead and buried. 

“I think the idea is ... absolutely stupid,” Mr Williams said. 

“Who’s going to pay to extract water from this bore? Who’s going to pay for the cost? 

“I don’t support it in any way and I will be disgusted if this government keeps investing money into this crazy notion.” 

However, the owner of Jimargil believes there has been too much time and money spent on the groundwater project for it not to “get a guernsey”.

Stewart Oates said he had long known the quality of the water in the aquifer under his land was excellent.

But thanks to investigations by scientists, the government now knows there is potentially enough there to drought-proof Broken Hill. 

“They’ve been monitoring ever since the day they put (the bores holes) in, and as far as I know if everything goes well in the next few months this is going to get a guernsey,” Mr Oates said.

Locals should be excited about the find, Mr Oates said, as it meant the city could always have access to good quality water. 

With Menindee Lakes now at just 22 per cent capacity, that day may be closer than some people think, he said.

“We’re in a pretty bad state, so hopefully it (the groundwater) will kick it.”

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