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Drinking water shortage in far west NSW an 'absolute disgrace': Riverina irrigator

By Declan Gooch and Gayle Ball, Monday January 18, 2016 - 12:13 EDT
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The remnants of the Menindee Lakes, south of Broken Hill in far west NSW. - ABC

An irrigator in the NSW Riverina region claims farmers there are being fed misinformation about the severity of the water shortage in the state's far west.

The Menindee Lakes, a chain of freshwater lakes which supply the city of Broken Hill with drinking water, have mostly run dry, with plans for Broken Hill to be put on bore water until a permanent solution can be found.

Griffith irrigator Helen Dalton travelled to the lakes last week, south of Broken Hill, to get a first-hand look at their condition.

She said she was shocked at what she saw.

"I think the Menindee and Broken Hill and Lower Darling [River] communities are just as important as anywhere else, and to have that river run dry, and those lakes to be dry, is an absolute disgrace," Ms Dalton said.

"Really, for the people around Menindee and [the] district, it's a community disaster."

There's widespread anger among water activists in Broken Hill about a decision by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) in late 2013 to release almost 300 gigalitres of water from the lakes.

The MDBA said the releases were , and maintains the releases did not contribute to the drying-up of the Menindee Lakes.

But Helen Dalton has joined with local water campaigners in condemning the authority for letting the water go.

"To drain the lakes when they were relatively full and to actually, I would call it waste that water, is a disgrace," she said.

"The Basin Plan as it is now, it fails on the environment, it fails on the economic and [it fails on] the social."

She's advocating for an upper-house inquiry into the management of the state's waterways, despite a separate vote due next month on a move to hold an inquiry into the management of the Menindee Lakes.

"We get a lot of misinformation here about Menindee, and I wanted to see for myself what was going on," she said.

Local water campaigners often blame irrigators and cotton growers in the state's north west for the water shortage.

But growers in the region reject that argument, with the state's Irrigators Council saying everyone is facing the same drought.

"While there's a lot of hype about the fact that irrigators have pinched our water, it's simply a process of extremely low flows in what has been a disastrous drought period," CEO Mark McKenzie said.

"We'd certainly reject any claim that irrigators and over-allocation is to blame."

He said that over the last four years, irrigators in the state's north have had "very little" water allocated to them.


- ABC

© ABC 2016

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