Left for dead

Fruit growers on the Lower Darling River want the state and federal governments to stop changes to the management of the Menindee Lakes that they say will destroy their farms.

The Lower Darling Horticulture Group says the plan will cause more no flow periods in the Menindee Lakes which would be disastrous for their businesses.

Spokesperson for the group, Rachel Strachan of Tulney Point Station, said the so-called “business case” for the Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project explicitly states that: ‘Future water management will increase the frequency that the lakes are dry.’

“This will destroy the farm businesses on the Lower Darling River that grow high value permanent plantings including stone fruit, citrus, wine grapes and table grapes,” she said.

“Our extensive plantings and businesses that have taken decades to establish will die if there is no water for an extended period.

“We have already had to cope with three periods of no flow in the river in the past 14 years, and under the Menindee Lakes Proposal periods of no flow will occur far more frequently.”

The Menindee Lakes are now at less than 40 per cent capacity but the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is increasing the rate of release to 1.8GL per day until the lakes drop to 480GL.

That trigger point is expected to be reached next month, after which WaterNSW takes over management of the lakes. 

In an interview with the ABC, the MDBA’s new executive director of river management, Andrew Reynolds, said Lower Darling users would benefit from the planned flows.

“We’re now getting to the point where the water that’s held in Menindee that’s accessible to the Murray needs to be used,” Mr Reynolds said.

“We’ve been working with WaterNSW for some time now to try to have the lakes positioned so when the 480GL trigger this, there’s as much of that held in the upper two lakes (Lakes Pamamaroo and Wetherell) as possible,” he said.

“Our estimate is that there will be about 295GL in those two lakes at that point in time. That’s considerably more than when the 480GL trigger hit last time.”

But Ms Strachan said the government’s recent purchase of farmers’ water entitlements showed it was not interested in water security for the Lower Darling.

She said the Commonwealth recently bought Tandou farm and its water entitlements from Websters for $79 million and the NSW government was building an “unwanted pipelined water supply” for Broken Hill costing more than $500 million. 

“Why would they spend so much public money if there is going to be increased security of supply?” Ms Strachan said.

She said that at recent public meetings convened by the MDBA in Mildura and Pooncarie, the NSW and Commonwealth government officials had refused to answer questions about the changes to the management of the Menindee Lakes and what damage they could cause.

She said looking after the river and providing water for stock and domestic purposes and established orchards must be the highest priority for the government.

“This government seems pleased to look after big corporations, but is doing nothing for farming families,” Ms Strachan said.

“Instead, irrigators and the community of the Lower Darling River are being let down by their elected representatives, particularly those who claim to care for regional and rural interests. They are sacrificing the Lower Darling River and the people who depend on it.

“We have recognised the future of the Lower Darling is probably one with less secure water supply and we have spent nearly three years working with the NSW and Commonwealth governments trying to address these issues, but without any outcomes.

“This leaves the Lower Darling horticulturists with no security of water supply, no other options and no future.”