Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick welcomed NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair’s visit to Menindee yesterday to see the fish kill firsthand.
But he believes Mr Blair still has questions to answer about the NSW government’s stewardship of the Darling River.
“Mr Blair needs to see the dying river for himself and understand its serious consequences for locals and for South Australians and Victorians,” he said.
“The fish spawning that occurs in the Menindee Lakes and Lower Darling is important to SA and Vic, and the river is also critical to proper flows through the Murray Mouth and into the Coorong.”
Mr Patrick believes Mr Blair should take some responsibility for the environmental disaster and not entirely blame the drought in NSW.
“Some of the dead cod are more than 80 years old, so they have survived many droughts (1935-45, 1952, 1964-65, 1982-83, 1990-95, 1997-2008) and the 1000km algal bloom in the Barwon-Darling in 1991. How can he blame the drought?” he said.
Mr Patrick also believes Mr Blair shouldn’t claim the MDB Authority is also to blame.
“The Minister (Blair) stood shoulder to shoulder with the MDBA in February last year as he threatened to withdraw from the MDB Plan in response to the Senate's initial decision not to support an extra 70 gigalitres of water being made available to irrigators in the northern Basin. Does he no longer stand shoulder to shoulder with the MDBA?” he said.
“The MDB Plan allows the MDBA to use the lakes to meet downstream demand in the River Murray when the lakes’ volume rises above 640GL and until it drops below 480GL. Did the NSW government make any protestation to the MDBA when the lakes were being drained in 2016-17?”
According to documentation obtained by Senator Patrick, Mr Blair's department prepared a business case for the Menindee Lakes Water Saving project last year.
That business case proposes that less water will be held in Menindee Lakes and that the Lower Darling will cease to flow more often and for longer.
“How can the Minister suggest this is an MDBA problem when the NSW government is deliberately planning to make the situation south of Menindee Lakes worse?” he said.
Mr Blair’s office has been contacted for comment.
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Stark inflow figures tell tale of drought severity: WaterNSW
WATERNSW said record low inflows into northern NSW rivers in the past two years have resulted in many waterways ceasing to flow, with climbing summer evaporation rates placing further pressure on falling supplies.
“Northern NSW river systems, which feed the Barwon-Darling system and then Menindee Lakes, can expect an average of about 4000 gigalitres of annual inflows, according to long-term data,” it said.
“In 2017-18, those northern rivers received just 542GL.
“In the first six months of 2018-19, these rivers received 30GL.
“This has resulted in the northern dams being reduced to very low levels, with Keepit in the Namoi valley now almost dry, and Copeton in the Gwydir valley at 15 per cent of capacity and facing critical low levels this summer if good rainfall does not occur.
“Northern valley dam storages have filled in three years of the past 10 years (2010-11, 2011-12, 2016-17) as did the Menindee Lakes at the bottom end of the system.
“During this 10-year period there was 35,000GL of inflows to the northern rivers, 28,000GL – or 80pc – of these inflows occurred in these three years.
“Of the 35,000GL of inflows over this period less than 20pc of the water was extracted.
“In 2016-17 the flows from the northern rivers resulted in Menindee Lakes filling, receiving more than 1900GL of inflows.
“Over the past two years this 1900GL has been used accordingly:
⦁ MDBA requirements - 360GL or 20pc
⦁ NSW Government environmental orders - 210GL/11pc
⦁ Maintaining river flow/habitat - 200GL/10pc
⦁ Lower Darling customers - 100GL/5pc
About 1000GL or about 55pc was lost to evaporation and seepage.
- For more WaterNSW drought information click here