Thursday, 19th August, 2010
Destroying the Menindee Lakes system for a water savings of under 200 gigalitres was "environmental genocide", according to DRAG President Mark Hutton.
The Darling River Action Group (DRAG) yesterday received Part B of the Darling River Water Savings Project's final report.
DRAG Secretary Barney Stephens said the project was about water saving in the Darling River Basin, but their findings focussed entirely on Menindee Lakes.
The report outlines six schemes for the Lakes. Only three provide the annual water savings of over 100 gigalitres that make them likely to be considered.
The first scheme calls for lakes Menindee and Cawndilla to be shut down entirely, and water to be allowed to flow past on down the river.
A drainage channel would also be run into Lake Pamamaroo. The report says this would save 248 gigalitres a year, but that it would produce unacceptable environmental effects.
The second plan would see Menindee and Cawndilla filled only once every seven years - or less if there was no flow in the right year.
This scheme would also see the Pamamaroo Channel built, and is supposed to save 125 gigalitres a year.
Mr Stephens said this was basically what has happened since 2002, with little water saved because little had reached Menindee Lakes.
The third scheme takes the measures outlined in the second and adds extensive works to manage water.
Savings were said to be about 135GL a year, but were not adequately modelled.
Mr Stephens said that, when added to the cost of storing Broken Hill's drought reserve water in an aquifer, the works would cost around $100 million. That's the figure Labor has said they will spend on the Lakes if re-elected.
The works include a new regulator and enlarged channels and outlets, and is similar to suggestions DRAG made to the report's authors.
But DRAG did not recommend the less frequent filling of the lakes.
Some options ruled out as being too expensive to warrant the savings included dividing Lake Menindee into segments and building a channel from Cawndilla to the Darling.
Alternatives considered for Broken Hill's water supply were: managed aquifer recharge; storage in Lake Tandure with either an upgraded Weir 32 or nearby off-lake five gigalitre storage, or; a nearby off-lake designated 18 gigalitre storage.
Mr Stephens suspected Country Water would have to pay for the new storages, with costs passed on to local water users.
He also took issue with each project's 'annual water savings' figure, produced by computer modelling.
"In some years there is very little water and in others there are, or once were, floods," he said.
"It would make more sense to talk in terms of savings per small, medium and large flow, and then to estimate the frequency of these."
Mark Hutton said the Government was trying to placate irrigators and farmers by concentrating so heavily on Menindee Lakes.
"Apparently evaporation only happens at Menindee Lakes, nowhere else," he said.
"They're also trying to placate South Australia, where they seem to think Menindee is the cause of all their problems."
The authors of the report - consultants SKM - had held information meetings but not consulted the public, Mr Hutton said.
"DRAG's main concern is damage to the environment and the economy of the region, and the recreational value to the region, especially Broken Hill, that will be lost.
"To destroy a lake system like Menindee for the want of 250GL, and more likely 125GL, it isn't worth the death and destruction of an icon."
Mr Stephens was particularly worried about the loss of Lake Wetherell.
Now Wetherell must retain water to supply Broken Hill. If that need is taken away the lake could be drained, taking away one of the few permanent wetlands in the Murray Darling system.
Ninety per cent of the others have been destroyed.
Calls from irrigators to put jobs before the environment were "short term and self-destroying", Mr Stephens said.
"If you don't have an environment, you don't have jobs. You don't have anything."
Liberal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley said that, if elected on Saturday, the coalition would not ignore the findings, but would heavily consult with the community before implementing anything.
"I'm sick of Menindee being tossed around like a political football," she said.
Ms Ley said the community had to join together and speak out against any moves to impose changes without notice, and that she'd be happy to be a part of the fight.