A NEW pipeline from the Murray River to supply farms and towns along the lower Darling is among six options being considered by the NSW Government to address the consequences of its planned overhaul of the Menindee Lakes.
Department of Industry representatives will meet select stakeholders next week to discuss the contingency options, which would be necessary to shore up the lower Darling community’s long-term water supply if the contentious Menindee project goes ahead.
Consultancy firm Deloitte has been hired to do an independent cost-benefit analysis of the six options, with its report due to be handed back to the department next month.
In a brief prepared for stakeholders, the Department of Industry said Deloitte had been asked to identify which options should be ruled out and any major issues that could stop the proposals from gaining approval.
Rachel Strachan, who farms at Tulney Point Station, said it was disappointing the government was asking for input on contingency plans when it had not even visited the region to give a public presentation on the Menindee Lakes project itself.
NSW intends to store less water at the lakes and allow faster release of the flows that do arrive to meet downstream needs.
That would reduce evaporation, considered a water saving under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but would significantly reduce the lakes’ ability to provide a secure supply of water to local users.
Ms Strachan said her preference was for the Menindee project to be revised so 480 gigalitres of water could be held in lakes Pamamaroo and Wetherell, protecting farmers’ water supply in dry years.
However, that option would force NSW to find water to meet its basin plan obligations elsewhere, possibly from irrigation communities on the Murray or Murrumbidgee rivers.
“We think it’s pretty unrealistic that they will do that,” she said.
Ms Strachan said there were concerns about the affordability of a pipeline, with some pastoralists in South Australia paying the equivalent of $3300 per megalitre for piped water.
Tolarno Station landholder Rob McBride, who is due to give evidence to the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission with wife Katharine after next week’s stakeholder meetings, said the inquiry had already heard experts say the basin plan’s water savings assessment was not based on science.
Mr McBride said the options under consideration showed a “total disregard for nature”.
“What happens to all the yabbies? What happens to the hundreds of thousands of birds?” he said.
Mr McBride said the government should consult the wider community about the water supply options, instead of holding meetings with selected stakeholders.
The cost of building another pipeline has raised the ire of residents of far west NSW, particularly given the government rejected an option to build the
Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline along the lower Darling River, at an estimated cost of $523 million.
Its chosen route along the Silver City Highway cost $467 million.
Asked about the government’s budget for any new pipeline, a NSW Department of Industry spokeswoman said: “Funding for basin plan projects is a Commonwealth responsibility.
“The route and design of the Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline was assessed to be the most cost-effective mechanism to secure the water supply of the Broken Hill township for now and generations to come.
“Any potential future pipelines along the lower Darling are likely to be significantly smaller and lower specification, resulting in a significantly lower cost per kilometre than the Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline.”
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