A Hollywood ending? The Menindee Lakes Option 7 proposal

Water conservation Conservation Environmental health Murray-Darling Basin Menindee

Communities in the Lower Darling are opposed to the Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project. This project is a major component of recent changes to the Murray Darling Basin Plan, which affect the entire Basin. All options so far proposed for the Project would have significant social, economic and environmental impacts on Lower Darling communities.

With both NSW and federal elections to be held in coming months, former NSW Water Minister and state Member for Barwon Kevin Humphries has proposed an ‘Option 7’ for the Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project. This proposal claims to support the local irrigation industry and other lake stakeholders through changes to the administration of the Lakes and infrastructure investment. Current Water Minister Nial Blair has undertaken to look into the proposal, although this may take some months, possibly until after the elections.

Under the proposed Option 7, control of Lake Menindee would be given from the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to NSW. Lake Cawndilla would be largely controlled by the MDBA and it alone would provide downstream water requirements. Substantial changes to water infrastructure are also required, which might not even be feasible.

While this proposal sounds appealing, it faces major administrative, political and practical hurdles. While the proposal is new to many stakeholders, in fact Mr Humphries has made a similar proposal before. It is unclear whether analysis of the proposal already exists.

Under our reading of the proposal, Option 7 will require a renegotiation of the Murray Darling Basin Agreement, which would require consensus of all Basin governments. It will reduce Victoria’s share of water in Menindee Lakes, making it more difficult for Victoria to fulfil its obligations to South Australia. Similarly, the proposal will reduce the amount of water going from Menindee Lakes to NSW’s commitment to South Australia. This reduction would need to be made up by irrigators in the NSW Murray.

Option 7 suggests that if Lake Menindee had been controlled by NSW it would not have been drained by MDBA in 2013 and 2016/17, bringing detrimental impacts to the local community. This ignores the fact that NSW could have prevented the draining of the lakes under existing arrangements. It therefore unclear why transferring control of Lake Menindee would change the draw down strategy used by MDBA.

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