Menindee fish kill: Labor border war on Murray Darling water project

NSW Regional Water Minister
Niall Blair and Victorian Water
Minister Lisa Neville held
the line on Menindee Lakes
management this week.

NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair and Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville held the line on Menindee Lakes management this week.

THE Labor Opposition in NSW appears on course to clash with the Andrews Government in Victoria over a controversial plan to overhaul the Menindee Lakes.

The NSW Opposition says it will abandon the Menindee Lakes water savings project if it is elected in March and Opposition Leader Michael Daley this week announced Labor would also launch an inquiry into management of the Darling River.

The NSW Government and Murray-­Darling Basin Authority argue changes to the way the Menindee Lakes operate – storing less water there and allowing greater volumes to be released downstream – would save 106 gigalitres through reduced evapor­ation and improve environmental outcomes.

Fish experts, lower Darling landholders and the NSW Opposition say the changes would lead to ecologically harmful, prolonged dry periods.

NSW Opposition water spokesman Chris Minns on Friday described the project as a “costly folly”.

Mr Minns said it was “very distressing” that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority supported it “despite a near-complete absence of corroborating information supporting their claims and obvious scepticism of the likely achievements being met”.

But Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has effectively backed the NSW Coalition Government, saying it was “concerning” NSW Labor could abandon the project.

“This is a critical project that will deliver a large amount of water back into the river system for environmental improvements,” Ms Neville told Sunraysia Daily.

“If the project did not proceed, it would result in the future of the (basin) plan coming into question and cause significant concern for communities who would potentially face more water buybacks, threatening their survival, to make up the shortfall.

“I encourage all parties to continue to support the plan and the strategies in place to achieve a balanced outcome for the environment, communities and the economy.”

NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair this week accused Mr Minns of committing to “junking the very project that will stop these types of (fish kills) happening in the future” and Labor of having “no policy on water management, unless it’s written by the Greens or simply involves doing nothing”.

But Sunraysia horticulturist Bill McClumpha said the Victorian and NSW governments were trying to “appease a few irrigators”.

“It doesn’t matter if you lose a bit of water through evaporation, if you save some water through buybacks and on-farm efficiency projects,” he said.

“(The Menindee project) is a chance to achieve an SDL (sustainable diversion limit) target – that’s all it is.

“I can’t see any other justification for it and it shouldn’t be about an SDL target.

“The SDL targets should be met without being forced to accept a scheme that’s going to lead to more fish-kill events.”

Member for Mildura Ali Cupper had already called on Ms Neville to take a stronger stance on the state of the Darling River and indicated she would raise the issue with Victoria’s new cross-border commissioner.

Ms Neville said conditions in the Darling were “largely being driven by severe drought”.

“The NSW Government has said there will be a report into the recent conditions in the Darling and the fish deaths and that this will be made public and I’d encourage them to get on and do this work,” she said.

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