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‘The worst is yet to come’

Wednesday, 10th December, 2014

A recent shot of Lake Menindee. A recent shot of Lake Menindee.

By Andrew Robertson

A group of Menindee and Broken Hill residents have been told to brace for worsening water conditions with little prospect of inflows into the Menindee Lakes over summer.

Around 60 people attended an information session at the Menindee civic hall yesterday to hear about water security projects currently underway near the township. 

Local man Larry Angell said the meeting was supposed to update people on works and modifications the state government was undertaking in order to access remaining water in the drying lakes.

“But the people present still have a lot of frustration and anger,” said Mr Angell, who attended the meeting that was hosted by the NSW Office and Water and the State Water Corporation.

He said emotions ran high during the hour-and-a-half-long gathering which heard the water situation at the lakes is expected to get worse in the weeks and months ahead.

Computer modelling shown to the meeting revealed that the likelihood of average inflows in the catchment was “very, very low”, he said, and already-low dam storage levels would continue to decline. 

The meeting was also told that Menindee was only likely to see a large inflow, with smaller inflows to be used to help upstream irrigators.

“They said if it’s small and they don’t think it will reach Menindee it would be kept for the cotton growers,” Mr Angell said.

“But the river needs to be wet so that when we do get a reasonable inflow it doesn’t get sucked up like a sponge.”

Mr Angell said the government representatives were unable to answer a number of questions posed to them, including at what point bore water would be used as an emergency town supply.

“They really couldn’t give us an answer on that.

“They didn’t really paint a very good picture and I guess they’re trying to (explain) the need for an alternative source of water.

“We’re going to be on bore water probably sooner rather than later and all because of mismanagement of the system.” 

He said people were angry with the government because they experienced the same issues 10 years ago and nothing had changed. 

“I don’t think they trust politicians anymore.

“People say rain will solve the problem; rain won’t solve the problem, it will just defer the problem.”

Sunset Strip shack owner Ross Leddra said the meeting basically confirmed what residents had already suspected - the situation is grim and authorities have no real answers.

 “I think it’s more hope than anything else; they don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Mr Leddra said.

Menindee resident Ron Page said the government representatives were told what needed to be done to improve the efficiency of the lakes.

“We need to make sure Lake Wetherell is cleaned out ... so that Broken Hill and Menindee will have a good, deep storage and we will never run out of water again.”

A spokesman for State Water, Tony Webber, described yesterday’s meeting and one held at Pooncarie on Monday as “very positive”.

He said people appeared to appreciate the opportunity to be kept up to date on the progress of the water security projects, even if they were upset at the need for them.

“People were obviously of the view that more water should have been kept in the lakes,” Mr Webber said.

“There’s a lot of emotion around it and it’s a very, very serious issue.

“We’re on the cusp of a catastrophe.”

But Mr Webber said there was also some “misconceptions” surrounding the management of the lakes, and little appreciation that many other communities across the State were also in trouble. 

The drought had the northern parts of the state well in its grip, he said, and was creeping across the west.

As far as keeping people up to date about the water situation, Mr Webber said the government did need to lift its game.

“I think we conceded we need to do a better job with communicating.”

But he again defended the decision not to hold a meeting in Broken Hill, saying “we just felt we didn’t have sufficient new information”.

“In the new year when we do have more information to provide we will have a meeting in Broken Hill.”

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