Darling River locals say the new drought reserve is totally inadequate, but the NSW Water Minister is pushing ahead.
The NSW Government has promised to establish a 195 gigalitre drought reserve in the Menindee Lakes system for critical human needs and to maintain Lower Darling flows.
NSW Water Minister Kevin Anderson’s office has stated “the NSW Government is proposing to include a new rule in water sharing plans that would restrict floodplain harvesting access, when there is less than 195GL being stored in Menindee Lakes.
Water flows through the Menindee Lakes main weir on May 17, 2021 in Menindee. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images
“This number includes the total storage across all the lakes, and represents up to 12 months’ supply for critical human and environmental needs for Menindee and the Lower Darling.”
But the 195GL has been branded a “useless number” by NSW water industry analysts and Darling River communities, given the Minister has defined it as the “total storage” across the Menindee system’s four lakes.
Each lake has what is called dead storage, which is the pool of water that sits below its release points, meaning at cannot be delivered to the Darling River.
Lake Cawndilla’s dead storage is 200GL, Lake Menindee is about 50GL and Lake Pamamaroo has 10GL of dead storage, while Lake Wetherell needs to retain 30GL of habitat water.
It means the lakes could hold 195GL, none of which could be delivered to the Lower Darling River.
Australian Floodplain Association chairman Justin McClure said 195GL was a “bullshit” number.
“We’ve always asked for at least 18 months supply – 390GL to 400GL of active storage.”
Floodplain Association vice-chairman Graeme McCrabb said all Minister Anderson was doing was playing a “negotiation game”, by rolling out an ill-defined number.
However Mr Anderson is pushing to reform the way the lakes are managed, which would mean most of the 195GL would be available during droughts.
In May the Minister announced a review aimed at developing new operating rules that he said would ensure the lower lakes (Cawndilla and Menindee itself) were always drained first “to improve water conservation … and maximise the availability of water in Lakes Wetherell and Pamamaroo, as the Lakes return to NSW control.
However he needs the support of the Victorian and South Australian Governments to amend the operating rules under the Murray Darling Basin Agreement.