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Water’s on my mind: minister

Wednesday, 22nd April, 2015

NSW Minister for Water, Niall Blair, visited the region for the first time yesterday since taking over the portfolio following a cabinet reshuffle three weeks ago. NSW Minister for Water, Niall Blair, visited the region for the first time yesterday since taking over the portfolio following a cabinet reshuffle three weeks ago.

By Erica Visser

The new State Water minister has promised that the region would not be worse off under a representative who is based in the Southern Highlands, 1200 kilometres from Broken Hill.

Niall Blair spent yesterday at Menindee inspecting ongoing bore drilling and meeting with stakeholders, three weeks after taking on the portfolio formerly held by Member for Barwon, Kevin Humphries.

Mr Blair announced the State Government would fund the carting of water to residents not connected to the Menindee supply, such as property owners.

The water would be distributed via the Central Darling Shire Council and residents who received it would pay the same rate as those connected to the town supply.

The Nationals’ member told the BDT yesterday that promises made before last month’s election still stood and that the change in minister would have no effect on the handling of the water crisis.

“People still have Kevin Humphries, he is the local member and we sit in the same party room, and it’s just the fact that I’m the minister now.

“Taking up this issue doesn’t diminish in any way the necessity for it, nor the importance within the government,” Mr Blair said.

“Anything that has been committed before is still there and the fact that coming into my third week I’m sitting here talking to you in Broken Hill, and I’ve been down there to Menindee today, is a clear sign of the importance of this issue.”

Mr Blair said around $500 million was needed to secure the region’s supply in the long term but the government would first concentrate on emergency short-term solutions, including the bore drilling program which was expected to be completed soon.

The drilling would determine whether there was an adequate supply of quality groundwater which may be needed by early next year. 

The minister also hit back at local concern that the Menindee Lakes could be decommissioned following the construction of the proposed pipeline, expected to be funded through the leasing of the state’s poles and wires.

“With all of the long-term solutions we want a healthy river, we want a good reliable supply of water to the people, the tourism and the industry that rely on it in Broken Hill and we also want lakes that are healthy and for people to utilise them,” Mr Blair said.

“It’s about getting those balances right. You’ve got to remember we’ve got people upstream that also want access to some of the water, and downstream, so part of my job is to try and balance all of those needs.

“The best solution would be for us to have a lot of rain in the upper catchment and we wouldn’t be as time-critical with the emergency water supply that we’re looking at at the moment.

“We’ve got the best people on the job and it’s about making the right decisions from here with the information at hand for the people in Broken Hill and Menindee.”

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