The NSW Government held its first of three community information sessions in Menindee on Wednesday on the development of future regional water strategies across the State.
The Government is aiming to deliver 12 regional water strategies that address the different needs of communities, First Nations people, industry, and the environment.
The Government’s analysis has aimed to consider past and predicted climate data to best inform future possible sequences of climate events.
Former Irrigator Allan Whyte, who attended the meeting, said that the government strategies have still not tackled the biggest issues that will ensure Lower
Darling communities have access to water in the drier months.
“The big issues we have are setting triggers that restrict normal access to water dependent on the conditions in the bottom half of the river.”
These conditions that are stipulated in the Western Regional Water Strategy Draft say that in order to protect flows during a drought or extreme climate period, temporary triggers will be initiate restrictions to ensure water is not taken during critical periods.
For Menindee lakes this proposed trigger is currently at 195GL which many community representatives suggested to be far below adequate to get the town through drought years.
“The attempts that they have had at that today were farcical”, said Mr Whyte.
“We had a figure today of 195GL total storage at Menindee, well that’s very little water and most of it you can’t even get at.”
“It would be far more appropriate to be talking about how much water you need to have in the river say 18 months ahead, to think about a time period ahead rather than a precise number,” he said.
“Every situation is different and no two dry periods are ever the same.
“You really should be able to manage risk as you get into the drying phase, the issues are in the dry years, in the wet years, there are plenty of water around.”
Mr Whyte said that it is critical that the Government work to come up with triggers that genuinely protect the health of the river and the communities along it going into the dry times.
“Those triggers must be in a format where we know they will happen; they cannot be at the discretion of an individual minister or department at the time.”
“Past experience is that the interpretation of some ministers is somewhat beneficial to use up north and not beneficial to the river downstream.”
The consultation which was held in Menindee Civic Hall on Wednesday and was attended by more Department of Planning and Environment representatives than community members showed the exhausting nature of keeping up with the ongoing policy changes along the river.
Wayne Smith of Karoola Station said that river communities have had their trust burnt by the government department too many times to fully trust representatives to come up with the figures that will ensure an equitable system.
“There have been probably 50-80 DPI staff that have been through over the last few years.
“We have told them all the same thing, that it needs to be 18 months’ supply, they have come back with basically no supply.”
“It’s disappointing to see the figures, they have produced after listening to us a number of times,” he said.
“195GL will basically sit at the bottom of the lake in dead storage,” he said.
“There is something like 1350GL that can be accessed in the northern basin that’s a fair slice of the pie and that doesn’t get here.
Retired farmer and Chair, Southwest Water Users Association, Howard Jones said in the 40 years he has been attending meetings like this one, he and other representatives have made it clear that they would like Water Sharing Plans to be interactive to allow greater participation across the basin.
“The people who attended the meeting from our point of view from down river have made it very clear they want to see the Water Sharing Plans be interactive, so that if someone makes a decision above them, you have the opportunity to comment on it, that’s not there.
“The real issue is that there is not a healthy end of system target in any of the water sharing plans in the northern basin.”
Allan Whyte said that the government presentation on Wednesday also largely ignored the importance of ensuring water quality is considered before it is counted as usable.
“Even Broken Hill when they were getting water from Menindee, the issue wasn’t, that there wasn’t water here, but was the quality of water they had to deal with and the treatment they had to do to make it usable.”
“There is a whole heap of fundamental things here in terms of river health, towns, people and they are more important than any irrigation access anywhere,” he said.
“The rules that are being proposed put access upstream as more important than places like Menindee Louth or Tilpa, and that’s wrong.”
NSW Department of Planning and Environment will now take their Draft Strategies to Walgett on 28th June and Bourke on 29th June, where they will invite community members comments and details on how to make a submission to the edit the draft strategies.