Inquiry hears concerns about rivers, lakes

Important questions about Broken Hill, Menindee Lakes and the Darling River were put to the first public hearing of a parliamentary inquiry examining water supply for country NSW held in the city yesterday.

Various native title groups, members of the Lower Darling Horticultural Group, representatives of City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Broken Hill & Darling River Action Group, as well as Water NSW and Essential Water took the stand over the five-and-a-half hour session at the Council Chambers.

With regards to Broken Hill and surrounds, the inquiry is especially examining the 2013 release of water from the Menindee Lakes, as well as the proposed Murray River to Broken Hill pipeline. 

The most common concern voiced by those who spoke was the lack of consultation and transparency from the state government and its various subsidiaries, in past, present, and potentially future dealings.

Councillor Marion Browne said City Council had repeatedly asked to see the business case for building a new pipeline, but have yet to receive it.

“I know there were three different options for where the pipeline would start, but we’ve never seen the pros and cons of that,” Councillor Browne said.

“It sticks in people’s minds; they think they’re being treated with no consideration, with the 2013 (release), people believe that hastened the drought,” she said.

“And that happened without council consultation or concern for effects on water users.”

Councillor Browne also suggested attempts again be made to make the Menindee Lakes a Ramsar Site, meaning an international treaty governing the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands would have to be adhered to.

Currently 480 gigalitres of water must be retained in the Menindee Lakes for use by the town of Broken Hill, but if the new Murray pipeline is built nobody seems sure if that requirement will remain.

Another major concern raised was how the new pipeline, and future water management will govern the Menindee Lakes’ role as a social and culture facet of people’s lives.

The Barkandji Native Title Group spoke of the importance to Aboriginal people of water remaining in the river and the lakes system for cultural purposes, while Mark Hutton and Tom Kennedy of the Broken Hill & Darling River Action Group spoke of the importance of the lakes as a tourism and recreational attraction.

CEO of WaterNSW, David Harris, stated that there is no native title recognition in the department’s current “action plan”, nor were there immediate plans to include them.

MLC Robert Brown is the chairman of the committee and he said that the way he saw it, opposition to the proposed pipeline stemmed from a distrust of the state government.

“If you could guarantee, fully guarantee, Broken Hill a supply of fresh potable water, and you could do it in the current cost constraints of supplying water to Broken Hill, and you could satisfy the cultural needs of both the indigenous population and the non indigenous population, people would be fine,” Mr Brown said.

“Of course, it’s our job to find out why there’s objections to it and see if we can get the government to come to the position that they need to provide some guarantees before they just go ahead and do it,” he said.

“If necessary we’ll come back to Broken Hill,” Mr Brown said.

“We’re going to look at the Southern irrigators next, we’re then going to look at the Northern basin, which is really where a lot of the answers for Broken Hill are going to lie.”

Submissions to the inquiry have been extended until January; evidence given to the Broken Hill hearing can be found on the government inquiry website.