LOWER Darling River irrigators face the possibility of water shortages and another mass fish kill looms as authorities prepare to cease flows from Weir 32 at Menindee.
WaterNSW will cease flows indefinitely next week to ensure town water supplies for Menindee and Broken Hill and releases will only start again once there are inflows into the Menindee Lakes, which are currently at zero.
“Water from Weir 32 is needed for local landholders, permanent plantings and stock and domestic use,” a WaterNSW spokesman said yesterday.
"Broken Hill and Menindee town supplies will be delivered from Copi Hollow until the Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline is fully commissioned."
WaterNSW initially scheduled to cease the flows this week, however it was delayed at the request of NSW DPI Fisheries to give them a few days to try and relocate stressed Murray cod from the pool near Weir 32.
Lower Darling citrus grower Alan Whyte, from Jamesville Station, said a series of block banks along the lower Darling would ensure the river continued to flow and give by some irrigators, but not all, access to water at least in the short term.
"If the block banks weren't in there it would just dry up to a series of water holes and that would happen within a couple of weeks," Mr Whyte said. "You'd have large amounts of the river bed literally dry - you could walk across it and your boots don't get wet.
"With the banks that are in there - the large ones and the small ones - there still will be water in the river but not necessarily for every property and not necessarily for a huge amount of time."
Mr Whyte said how long water remained in the block banks would depend on the weather. When they were last used in 2016, he had access to water until August but if February and March were as hot and dry as January, water might not last as long this year.
"I'm relatively confident that we'll be right probably through winter or most of winter," he said. "I'm not at all confident that we're right into spring."
Mr Whyte believes another fish kill is inevitable but it is impossible to predict the timing or extent.
"I sure as hell hope we don't have a repeat of what happened at Menindee a few weeks ago," he said. "It's probably a fair description that the fish everywhere in the river are under a fair amount of stress."
Mr Whyte believes there needs to be changes at both state and federal levels to ensure better management of the lower Darling River.
"The problem we've got at a state level, current state policy is that the lower Darling River is the lowest priority for available water amongst everything else - and the lowest priority irrigation licence up north under the current NSW Government is a higher priority than fresh water at Menindee. So on a state level, put the river at number one where it should be and it's where the Water Act should be too.
"Unfortunately that offends northern cotton (irrigators). I don't have an issue with people growing cotton but I do have an issue with the influence the cotton industry has on water policy in New South Wales.
"At a Federal level ... the lower Darling doesn't rate a mention in the basin plan and Menindee is viewed simply as a source of water to meet flow targets on the Murray. That has to change."
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