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Minister says long-term plan key to commitment

Monday, 5th January, 2015

Water Minister Kevin Humphries addresses the crowd at the Picnic Train attack commemoration in Broken Hill last week. Before the event, he met with water action group advocates to discuss concerns about the Menindee Lakes system. PICTURE: Michael Murphy Water Minister Kevin Humphries addresses the crowd at the Picnic Train attack commemoration in Broken Hill last week. Before the event, he met with water action group advocates to discuss concerns about the Menindee Lakes system. PICTURE: Michael Murphy

By Michael Murphy

The NSW Government won’t commit to major works at Menindee Lakes until a long-term plan is in place to secure Broken Hill’s water supply, according to Water Minister Kevin Humphries.

He also said plans need to be laid out to reconfigure the lakes system to meet the needs of all stakeholders, including social and cultural groups, landholders and irrigators.

The focus for solutions to the Far West’s water problems has shifted to a community consultative committee, which met for the first time just before Christmas.

The committee - called the Broken Hill Water Security Forum - is an expansion of an existing advisory group to Essential Water.

The forum includes local action group advocates, health authorities, businesses, miners, landholders, water authorities, and city councillors. 

The expanded committee has been formed at the request of the Minister following an announcement in November last year that the NSW Government will “reserve” $1 billion for water security infrastructure across the state.

The formation of the forum also follows community backlash about the management of the Menindee Lakes, particularly after the NSW Government announced a drilling program to test for bore water.

Mr Humphries said the local reaction to the emergency bore water testing program was unexpected.

“I didn’t expect the reaction in a sense that we are doing it in a whole lot of other places around the state,” Mr Humphries said.

But he admitted the government needed to communicate more with the community about water issues impacting Broken Hill and Menindee.

“In hindsight, you could see that what people thought was a good idea as an emergency back-up system wasn’t communicated or articulated well in the community ... I’ll accept that,” Mr Humphries said.

“That’s what I walked into ... we’ll work our way through it.”

Mr Humphries was promoted to the water portfolio after a ministry reshuffle following the resignation of former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell in April last year.

Mr Humphries said he expected the water forum to work through all the options, find a consensus, and deliver him with recommendations to fix the region’s water woes.

“I’ve made two things very clear,” he said.

“Any works on the lakes will only be committed to by us, the NSW government, once the long-term water security issue for Broken Hill has been met.

“We have potentially got the funds to go and revisit the pipeline from the Murray issue, so that is on the table.

“The second thing is there has to be a reconfiguration of the existing lakes system that meets the social amenity, regional issues, and also the existing agricultural stakeholders.”

He said agricultural stakeholders included Menindee irrigators and landholders “that come off the pipeline”.

“Am I worried that people are worried about their water supply?

“No. I think that’s a good thing, it’s a healthy thing.

“What they need is good and factual information, and they need a way of engaging at a local level that has actually got some weight.”

The water security forum meets for the second time next month.

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