What it means for the Darling-Baaka River.
While the reconfiguration of the Menindee Lakes would be an ecological tragedy in its own right, it also has major implications for the Darling-Baaka River, the Menindee Lakes wetlands system and the Great Darling Anabranch.
Reducing the need to provide water for the Menindee Lakes and a water supply for the city of Broken Hill reduces the imperative to ensure water flows down the Darling-Baaka River. It opens the way to justify extracting more water for irrigation in the Northern Basin. Water flowing down the Darling-Baaka River past the Bourke Weir will be cast as water that is wasted to evaporation and seepage, despite it being vital to the ecology of the river and flood plains. The remaining water stored in a reduced Menindee Lakes will be used as operational water for downstream irrigation and uses.
That’s why maintaining the integrity of the Menindee Lakes as a unique ecological asset is important to ensuring the Darling-Baaka River is viewed as more than just an irrigation drain.
Many major rivers in northern NSW and southern Queensland flow into the Darling-Baaka River. A major expansion of broadscale irrigation for crops like cotton has meant that less water has flowed down the Darling-Baaka River to reach the Menindee Lakes and the Lower Darling. This has occurred through the over-allocation of water extraction licences and through floodplain harvesting, where overland flows are intercepted before they can reach waterways, and are then stored in private dams.
The 2012 Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan, which sets the rules for pumping water out of the Barwon and Darling Rivers, was extremely generous to irrigators, allowing a massive amount of extraction, including pumping from the river when the flows were only low. Since then, the Darling-Baaka River has run dry for many months on end and mass fish kills have occurred through stagnant water and blue-green algae blooms.
The campaign to save the Menindee Lakes is also a campaign to revive the Darling-Baaka River. If enough good quality water flows down the Darling-Baaka River, then the Menindee Lakes can also be revived and maintained as an important lake system and wetland.