This report is the first in a series that highlights how the Murray–Darling Basin Plan has increased the flow of money and water to big agribusinesses and has increased the vulnerability of everyone else in the Basin– Aboriginal people, floodplain graziers, downstream communities and small irrigators.
The Darling River originates in Queensland and runs the length of Western NSW into Menindee Lakes in south-western NSW, 110km south-east of Broken Hill. Menindee Lakes feed the Lower Darling River, which meets the Murray near the South Australian border at Wentworth.
The Barkandji people have continuously occupied the Darling area for more than 40,000 years and the river is central to their identity and culture. Graziers moved into the area in the 1830s and irrigation was facilitated by modifications to Menindee Lakes in the 1950s and 1960s.
The river and lakes play a vital role in the region, providing water for towns, stock and irrigation and they also support tourism and recreational water sports. The Lower Darling is important for the whole Murray–Darling Basin, as it connects the Northern and Southern Basins. This connectivity is important for the environment – for example, much of the Murray–Darling Basin’s native fish population comes from Menindee Lakes and the Lower Darling River.
Major changes are being made to the management of the Lower Darling and Menindee Lakes. The Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project aims to reconfigure the lakes to reduce evaporation, remove permanent irrigation from the Lower Darling and change Broken Hill’s water source from the lakes to the Murray River, via a 270km pipeline.
These changes bring benefits – the reduction in evaporation and other water demand in the Darling would allow irrigators in the Northern and Southern Basins to use more water. However, the changes are also having major impacts on the economy, community and environment of the Darling Region.