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More water for irrigators

Friday, 12th December, 2014

By Craig Brealey

While the Menindee Lakes are drying up, irrigators to the north have been given permission to take up to 16,000 megalitres more from the river each year. 

However, the bigger allocation will not be used “at this time,” according the Department of Primary Industries which recommended the increase to the NSW Government. 

Yesterday the NSW Greens’ water spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham called on the Water Minister, Kevin Humphries, to explain his decision that favours the cotton growers on the Barwon-Darling system.

“It’s certainly a surprise that in the middle of a serious drought, and in an already over-stressed river system, Kevin Humphries has suddenly found modelling which suggests that a nine per cent increase to the water cap is possible,” said Mr Buckingham, who will return to Broken next week.

The BDT contacted Mr Humphries’ office which referred us to the Department of Primary Industries’ Office of Water.

The Minister’s spokesman said the Office of Water had done the “modelling” on which Mr Humphries had based his decision.

The Office of Water told the BDT that while the irrigators’ allocation had been increased “there is no additional water being allocated... at this time.”

“There has been a small upward adjustment to Barwon-Darling unregulated river licences, from a total of about 173,000ML to 189,000ML,” it said.

“It should be noted that this is not a large increase given that these licences were slashed from 524,000ML to 173,000ML in 2006.

“Currently these accounts hold little water due to the dry conditions and will remain so until significant rainfall brings recovery to river systems.”

But Mr Buckingham described the Minister’s decision as “convenient” for his constituents.

“After 15 years of debate on the level of the cap for this river, Kevin Humphries has today conveniently found in favour of irrigators at the expense of the environment, flood plain graziers and downstream users, such as the towns of Wilcannia, Menindee, Broken Hill and Pooncarie.”

Mr Buckingham said people might wonder whether Mr Humphries, the Member for Barwon, “truly has the interests of his entire electorate at heart, or is simply the Minister for his irrigator mates.

“Kevin Humphries needs to come clean with the people of Broken Hill and explain why he has suddenly approved an increase of 16,000 megalitres to the maximum water available to irrigators every year in the Barwon-Darling River, while they are forced onto water restrictions and may have to drink bore water due to the mismanagement of the Menindee Lakes system by his government.

“Broken Hill’s water supply is now threatened by blue-green algae, so not only is this a questionable decision, but the timing is insensitive,” Mr Buckingham said.

The Greens MP is due to arrive in Broken Hill on Sunday. He will also visit Wilcannia to launch his campaign for a new downstream weir to be built next year.

In Broken Hill he will convene a public meeting to announce the Greens’ policies for the Darling River.

“I’m looking forward to meeting my friends in Broken Hill and Wilcannia again and turning up the heat on Water Minister Kevin Humphries to deliver for the people of the Outback,” he said.

“Since I visited a month ago the situation has only become more pressing and Minister Humphries has failed to adequately respond.”

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