WaterNSW's message: That's the way it's gonna be, lower Darling

Robert and Katharine McBride of Tolarno Station. Ms McBride said the NSW Government had told her this week it would not support the construction of two block banks in the river.
Picture: Louise Barker

Robert and Katharine McBride of Tolarno Station. Ms McBride said the NSW Government had told her this week it would not support the construction of two block banks in the river. Picture: Louise Barker

LANDHOLDERS along the lower Darling River upstream of Pooncarie remain without a solution to a looming water shortage, with the river expected to stop flowing by the end of the year.

WaterNSW staff updated the lower Darling community on their plans to manage the river in the coming months at a public meeting at Pooncarie on Thursday.

WaterNSW executive manager of system operations Adrian Langdon said the Darling would stop flowing in late December without any more in-flows to the Menindee Lakes.

However, supply to the lower Darling could be extended if substantial rain falls across the northern catchments or if the pipeline being built to supply Broken Hill is able to be commissioned months ahead of schedule.

But the situation remains dire for the farming community reliant on the lower Darling, particularly families on the mostly pastoral properties between Pooncarie and Menindee.

One of those farmers, Katharine McBride of Tolarno Station, said the NSW Government had told her this week it would not support the construction of two block banks in the river because the approval process would not be completed in time to store up an emergency supply of water.

"There is no point in carting water if we can't get water to our stock because they die and our businesses die," she said.

Two block banks downstream of Pooncarie, that will store up critical water for fruit plantings, are expected to begin construction within two weeks.

Member for Murray Austin Evans said the government's reluctance to build block banks upstream of Pooncarie was down to approval times, rather than cost.

However, Mr Langdon said the department's recommendation to Regional Water Minister Niall Blair was that the two extra banks not be approved because it risked setting a precedent for other parts of the state.

It is understood Mr Blair is yet to make an official decision on the two block banks.

But with the banks unlikely to be approved in time, Mr Evans said a solution was needed to ensure household water could be supplied to farms between Pooncarie and Menindee when the river stops flowing.

Court Nareen Station landholder Nerida Healy said the government needed to consider the cost of infrastructure to farmers if it was to truck in water.

"It is quite an expensive process," she said.

Frustration was evident among the farmers about the way the Menindee Lakes had been managed and the role of a water sharing agreement between NSW, Victoria and South Australia in the looming water shortage.

Mr Langdon said WaterNSW had worked with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to ensure more than 300GL remained accessible to the lower Darling, once the Menindee Lakes' storage fell below 480GL.

When the lakes' supply dwindled in 2014 ahead of the previous cease-to-flow, only 250GL was left for the lower Darling.

Mr Langdon said the Darling River's northern catchments had received among the lowest in-flows on record.

Just 205GL remains in the Menindee Lakes, with only 170GL accessible to the lower Darling.

Janesville horticulturist Alan Whyte said, while his part of the river would benefit from a block bank, those upstream of Pooncarie had to be provided for.

Ms McBride said it was “heartbreaking” to learn the government was not supportive but stressed the decision would not divide farmers either side of Pooncarie.

“We know that we’re one community and we have to stick together,” she said.

For more local stories, pick up your copy of Friday's Sunraysia Daily, 28/6/2018. To subscribe to our Digital Edition, click here

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