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Foes united on plan for lakes

Wednesday, 22nd March, 2017

By Emily Roberts

A proposal to remove the contentious 480-640 rule is the most important aspect of MP Kevin Humphries’ plan to restore the Menindee Lakes, according to a local water spokesman.

Treasurer of the Darling River We Want Action Group, Mark Hutton, said Mr Humphries’ announcement that he wants the 640-480 gigalitre rule removed and water to instead be allowed to stay in the Menindee Lakes was very important.

He said claims that Mr Humphries’ plan, which was announced on Monday, was old and outdated were misplaced.

“I think the idea has always been there from the government’s point of view,” Mr Hutton said.

“The ideas aren’t new, a regulator between Menindee and Morton Boolka were in the original plans - it’s not new.

“The most important point was that Kevin said he wanted to scrap the 640-480 gigalitres rule.

“That rule is why the lakes have been drained twice in the last 10 years.

“Government departments have been using the water all at once - they’ve adopted a use it or lose it policy.”

Mr Hutton said Mr Humphries’ suggestion to put a regulator in between Lake Menindee and Cawndilla will ensure Menindee is kept full.

“When there is enough water, they will open the gates and fill Cawndilla,” he said.

“It can be used to fill both lakes or draw from either lake or back fill the lakes.

“These were in the original plans but they were never finished.

“In the early years, the Darling River Action Group (DRAG) was consulted and we pushed for the installation of that regulator.

“I think it just became a matter of it being bogged down in bureaucracy - it needs an extra push.”

Mr Hutton said the main focus point should be the removal of the MDBA’s ability to pull flows out of Menindee Lakes.

“The new idea, Kevin’s idea, is to scrap the 640-480 rule and put the remaining water in NSW’s control and take it away from the MDBA’s authority - which is a good thing.

“His idea is that Cawndilla would be under MDBA control and would be a sacrificial lake for SA and the Lower Darling who can draw the bulk of the water from Cawndilla.

“That would benefit Tandou and give the Lower Darling more flow and a better supply of water.”

Mr Hutton said the group met with Mr Humphries on Sunday where they spent two hours discussing everything.

“That was unusual in itself because we haven’t had a good working relationship with Kevin.

“But the meeting went for two hours and we asked him a lot of the hard questions.

“One of the main questions was when he expected to have a permanent water supply in the lakes system. The other was what was the need for the pipeline - which he answered truthfully.

“He said that Broken Hill won’t be the only users of the pipeline and that two large mining enterprises along the route of the pipeline will be using it.

“It’s a win for us; we are quite pleased with it.

“If we can keep Lake Menindee at a minimum of 80 per cent, it’s a win for everyone.

“Kevin has said the plan would involve just taking 20 per cent off the top when it is needed.”

Mr Hutton said there were many positives that could be developed in the future.

“There are many recreational and environmental aspects that will benefit from this.

“Permanent water in the top lakes will promote horticulture; there is a scope for the Indigenous population to run businesses with breeding native fish to restock the lakes, yabbie farming.

“There is tourism potential as well.

“However, all these are reliant on regaining flows in the Darling. There is still too much over-extraction of water from the Darling.

“We will fight tooth and nail for that to stop.

“We support the overall concept, but the devil will be in the detail.

“It is good to have a working relationship with Kevin now.”

The MDBA and Federal Water Minister Barnaby Joyce were both contacted for a comment. Mr Joyce’s office said they would respond today.

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