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City urged to fight for water

Wednesday, 15th October, 2014

The dismal condition of the Darling River, Menindee Lakes, and the city’s looming water crisis could all be fixed by reining in irrigators upstream, says former DRAG chairman, Mark Hutton. The dismal condition of the Darling River, Menindee Lakes, and the city’s looming water crisis could all be fixed by reining in irrigators upstream, says former DRAG chairman, Mark Hutton.

By Darrin Manuel

When the city is finally out of water or facing the prospect of evacuation, maybe then the people of Broken Hill will realise it's time to stand up for themselves.

That is the belief of former Darling River Action Group chairman Mark Hutton, who is calling on locals to "refuse to lose" when it comes to the looming water crisis facing the city.

Mr Hutton said it was abysmal to think that almost 10 years after the near-disaster of 2004, when the city was within a few weeks of running out of water, so little progress had been made on the issue.

"What has been done over the last ten years to avoid this disgrace from happening again? In a word, nothing," he said.

"There has been plenty of breast-beating and promises from local and state politicians but again nothing of any consequence has happened.

"There is the much-heralded Murray-Darling Basin Plan that does plenty for the Murray but basically nothing for the Darling.

"So here we are ten years on and in the same predicament - put on water restrictions, salinity levels of that water that will eventually exceed national safe drinking guidelines, our hot water services and air conditioners eaten out by salt."

Mr Hutton said it was time action was taken at a national level to prevent the continued draining of the Darling River by irrigators.

He said over 50 per cent less flow is now recorded at Wentworth since the advent of massive flood irrigation schemes in NSW and southern Queensland.

"The simple fact of the matter is that too much water is being taken out of the Darling River and its tributaries for irrigation... water flows that would eventually work their way down the Darling are held back in large and small dams and weirs on every tributary that feeds it.

"Before the expansion of these schemes we could expect a major flood event approximately every ten years and two to three smaller flows per year in between.

"We still get the big floods, which saved us last time, but we don't get as many if any of the smaller flows to replenish the river and lakes.

"These are extracted legally - and you can bet, illegally - and used to irrigate cotton, rice, almonds and other water-excessive crops.

Mr Hutton said poor management and legislation were also contributing to the problems facing the Darling.

"South Australia can call on the water stored in Menindee Lakes until the volume drops to 480 gigalitres. Unfortunately for us, most of that 480 gigalitres is not accessible as it is pooled at the back of the lakes.

"These draw-down figures need to be urgently revised and the lakes resurveyed."The practice of draining the lakes without flows coming down or meteorological data to that effect to replenish them also needs to be urgently revised."

The NSW Government and federal and state MPs are now lobbying for bores to be sunk at Menindee to supplement the city's water supply, and water restrictions are set to be implemented.

However, Mr Hutton said he was suspicious of the motives of some backing the plans.

"Upstream irrigators are also putting enormous pressure on for this to happen, but they want it so they can get their hands on the 180 gigalitres that is supposed to be held in reserve for our water supply.

"Make no mistake - this is not about improving efficiency of the lakes but a blatant grab for more irrigation water to be held upstream.

"These irrigators think that every litre of water that flows past their properties is wasted.

"Flood irrigation is destroying and will destroy the Darling River for future generations."

Mr Hutton said it was time residents and businesses in the city joined forces to fight for their right to secure clean drinking water.

"Our very existence depends on a reliable and clean water source. Our town, mines and businesses cannot survive without it.

"It's time to stand up, Broken Hill, and that goes also for the big mining companies reaping the rewards in this town.

"If we meekly allow these restrictions to be implemented and agree to drink bore water we will deserve what we get."

As a show of protest, Mr Hutton said he would ignore water restrictions, and he encouraged others to show that they are tired of being ignored and neglected under the current system.

He believes if the situation hits rock bottom then the rest of the country may finally take notice of the plight of the Darling, and the people who depend on it.

"As a ratepayer and homeowner in this town I am going to refuse to go on water restrictions or drink bore water.

"My family and I will not be dictated to, or forced by weak-kneed politicians who are only interested in the areas where they get the most votes, or multinational irrigation companies who are only interested in profit for their shareholders and couldn't give a stuff about our communities.

"I can't ask people to break the law but they can make a stand in whatever way they see fit.

"The sooner water needs to be trucked in to Broken Hill at the expense of the Australian taxpayer the sooner they will realise the national disgrace that is the Darling

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