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Lakes deal done

Wednesday, 11th August, 2010

Labor's plan for the Menindee Lakes was a great idea, but left a lot of questions unanswered, according to the Darling River Action Group (DRAG).

DRAG's Barney Stephens yesterday commended Labor on continued water buybacks, but said their plan for Menindee Lakes was murky.
Stan Dineen, a member of the recently wound-up Darling River Water Savings Program, agreed. He said the community needed to be consulted before work began.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday that her government had signed an agreement on the Lakes' future with the NSW Government.
A "final feasibility assessment", to be finished by October, aims to kick off work on the Menindee Lakes to improve storage efficiency and operating arrangements. Water entitlements would then be transferred to the Commonwealth.
In return, the commonwealth would provide up to $300 million to help secure urban water supplies across regional New South Wales.
The assessment is also expected to outline a plan to 'drought proof' Broken Hill by using an aquifer.
Ms Gillard said the changes would save 200 billion litres of water each year, which would complement water the government had already bought back from irrigators to improve environmental flows.
The release of the Murray Darling Basin Authority's draft report on returning environmental flows to the basin has been delayed until after the election.
But Ms Gillard yesterday committed to keep buying back water until environmental flows had been restored, whatever the cost.
Mr Stephens said that $100 million had been put aside to be spent at the Lakes, leaving some works in doubt, and that the aquifer plan needed more information.
"Who is going to pay for the upkeep of the aquifer? The people of Broken Hill, or the people who benefit from the water save?" asked Mr Stephens.
Mr Stephens said there was little detail on what exactly would happen to the Menindee Lakes. He hoped the Murray Darling Basin Commission would assume control of the system.
However, he said DRAG fully supported Labor's water buybacks.
"I congratulate Penny Wong on what she has already done with the buybacks.
"They seem to be the only way the Commonwealth can fix it. It seems they can't put water back without paying for it, even though they're paying a lot more than the irrigators did in the first place," he said.
"I'm sure (irrigators) would support the plan to pay for water."
Stan Dineen said an aquifer was acceptable as long as it provided a good quality water supply.
"To ensure that you'd probably need a pilot plant running continuously for 18 to 24 months," he said.
River water would need to be pumped into the aquifer, Mr Dineen said, and treated both before and after, likely with a reverse osmosis plant.
While the aquifer would probably be used only once or twice a decade, Mr Dineen said maintenance of the system would cost millions of dollars each year.
"I'm sure they hope that would be picked up by Broken Hill. I don't think the community could afford it," he said.
Mr Dineen said that if Broken Hill was left to fund the upkeep it would mean an extra $350-550 on every water bill.
"We need to be careful something isn't pushed through parliament without consultation. We need time to look at all the pros and cons," he said.
"Our water supply is very secure now. This community shouldn't have to pay if we have to change for someone else's benefit."

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