The Darling and Menindee Lakes

While on the subject of the Murray-Darling Basin, CEO of the NSW Irrigators’ Council, Luke Simpkins, has expressed disapproval of The Australia Institute’s report “Owing down the river”, describing it as “a further appalling attempt at skewing the facts.”

In his vigorous rejoinder, Simpkins points out a few salient facts conveniently ignored by the Institute in relation to the legislative framework governing the allocation of water—when it is available—in the Basin.

  • Farmers can only use water when all environmental and human needs have been met.
  • Most farmers in the Barwon-Darling currently have no access to water, and haven’t for over 12 months.
  • Even when farmers do have access to water, due to the rules, 94% of flows in the Barwon-Darling are reserved for the environment and only 6% is available for irrigation farmers.
  • Farmers only take what is available under their licence conditions and very rarely is there an opportunity to use all the water they are licensed to use in the one event.
  • All flows in the past 12 months have been protected from extraction by the state government and our irrigators because of critical human needs on the river.
  • Access to water by irrigation farmers has already been cut back from 527GL to just 173GL in 2007 under the Cap on Extractions. This saw a massive reduction of 64% of water access to farmers in this region.
  • The Barwon-Darling farming community has already contributed 33GL (33 billion litres of water) to the environment under the SDLs, which is 27GL (27 billion litres of water) more than they were required to.
  • The Independent Assessment of the 2018-19 Fish Deaths In The Lower Darling by Professor Vertessy, suggests that the majority of impacts from extractions on Menindee inflows, and therefore Menindee Lake volumes, are from tributaries above the Barwon–Darling and not the Barwon–Darling itself.
  • While an ‘unregulated river’ is a river without a dam at the headwater – it is not a river without regulation. In fact, all river systems and water use in NSW is under very tight regulations.
  • All Water Sharing Plans, including the Barwon-Darling, are undergoing review by the Natural Resource Commission, which is a statutory requirement.
  • Water Sharing Plans have the sophistication of flexible measures embedded within them, so they can adapt and respond to changing water availability, without the need for a total overhaul.
  • This gives certainty that environmental needs can continue to be met, and also certainty to farming families about the likelihood of receiving a water allocation (if any at all).
  • The Minister can intervene at any time.

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