A LACK of fresh water flowing into the Lower Darling River may mean water needs to be pumped between the Menindee Lakes system in NSW as early as next month.
The Menindee Lakes total storage is at 21 per cent of capacity, while a WaterNSW spokesperson said the Darling had “all but ceased” below Walgett, NSW.
In March, water could be pumped from the “relatively shallow” Lake Tandure into Lake Wetherell to reduce evaporation. There is also a reduced release regime to maximise supply to Broken Hill, NSW.
The spokesperson said this would happen if there was a “continued absence of significant inflows”. It last occurred in December 2014.
The spokesperson said this would extend supply until at least the end of 2018 under the “worst case scenario” of near zero in-flows.
The decision has been attributed to “prevailing drought conditions” but Menindee Lakes advocate Darryn Clifton said there was no drought and the water system had been “150 per cent mismanaged”.
“We had a flood, then as soon as it was over, the NSW government started to manage it to drain it,” he said.
He said “draining” the water could help the NSW government look like “saviours” in December when the new Wentworth, NSW, to Broken Hill pipeline is expected to be operational.
A spokesperson from the office of Regional Water Minister Niall Blair said the references to drought reflected the dry weather and subsequent absence of flow.
“It is absurd to suggest the NSW government let lakes and rivers decline to justify construction of the River Murray to Broken Hill Pipeline,” they said. “Water availability is based on inflows which is based on how much rain there is in the catchments.”
Mr Clifton said the community relied on water for tourism, while there were also health concerns.
“If we’ve got no flows coming to flush it out, the quality deteriorates, especially during summer,” he said.
The WaterNSW spokesperson said salinity levels were “comparatively high”, while water quality would decline without significant flows.
Mr Clifton said he had always lived locally and a dry lake system used to be rare.
“I’d never seen it dry until the Millenium drought – every time they let water out of the lakes there would be more coming in,” he said. “This is going to kill the river.”
A Murray-Darling Basin Authority spokesperson said the NSW government was responsible for managing the Menindee Lakes to meet local needs, while the authority may direct water to be released from the Menindee Lakes to meet downstream demand when the volume rises above 640 gigalitres until it drops below 480GL, which it did in December.