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Water plan revealed

Saturday, 2nd May, 2015

By Erica Visser

The state government has finally revealed what actions it will take to counter Broken Hill’s water shortage before a looming September deadline - and it involves bore water.

If substantial rain or inflows are not received between now and spring, the city’s surface water supply will be too salty to drink.

In response, the government will now spend the next five months doubling the capacity of a reverse osmosis plant in preparation to treating the water later this year.

With the treatment plant in place, it is estimated the remaining water in the Menindee Lakes system will last the city through until late 2016.

This is when, in a “worst case scenario”, bore water from several sites on Lake Menindee will be utilised, according to State Water spokesman Tony Webber.

The government confirmed at a consultative forum on Thursday that shallow bore testing under the Menindee Lake bed had returned promising results. 

“These bores have come back with good quality, good flow, low salinity water that will be useful. We estimate that will stretch out the emergency supply another 12 months from September 2016,” Mr Webber.

“So by then you’re well into 2017 and up our sleeve is the Tallyawalka borefield where we haven’t started drilling yet.

“We’ll start testing there early this month and we’re hopeful that, if what we expect is realised, that’ll be more time again.”

Mr Webber said that the test results had left the government “quite relieved”, despite past groundwork that had indicated the bore sites likely presented a viable water source. 

“It’s not like we’re going in blind; these results confirm some of the investigation that’s been going on in this area for quite some time.

“We were following some of the good work that’s been done by, most recently, the Office of Water, for example.

“...This gives us a valid, viable emergency supply which will allow us time for the government to investigate and implement a longer term fallback solution and in the meantime, we’re all hoping that we get significant flows.”

Mr Webber said the bore results provided a “good news story” and would put an end to months of speculation.

“What we were able to tell the community at the meeting was that our hopes had been realised,” he said.

“Presenting our likely strategy for the future has freed us up to be able to now focus on looking at a long-term fallback option.”

The government’s preferred long-term option is to construct a pipeline to the Murray River, a project that is yet to be costed.

But the proposed solution has been met with fears that it would lead to the decommissioning of the Menindee Lakes.

However Mr Webber said the government was keenly aware of the cultural and environmental significance posed by the lakes.

“The government has given numerous emphatic assurances that this is not about decommissioning the lakes. What we’ve been charged to do is find an emergency supply to fall back on.

“I think people hold valid fears and the absence of communication in the early days meant some of these fears took hold and I think that’s understandable.

“It’s our job now to try and address them.”

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