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NSW leads discussions for proposed changes to Menindee Lakes operations

Water

The NSW Government will begin discussions immediately with the Murray Darling Basin Authority and Basin jurisdictions on how to improve the way water in the Menindee Lakes is stored and managed.

Minister for Lands and Water Kevin Anderson said NSW is seeking to improve water conservation in the Lakes and maximise the availability of water in Lakes Wetherell and Pamamaroo as the Lakes return to NSW control.

“This will improve the longevity of water stored in the upper lakes and keep the Lower Darling running for longer,” Mr Anderson said.

“The NSW Government is committed to Menindee’s water system and understands the importance of water storage. When it comes to managing water, my view is healthy rivers, healthy farms and healthy communities. Not one or the other.”

The rules under the Murray Darling Basin Agreement allow water in the Menindee Lakes to be used in the River Murray system when storage levels increase above 640 GL until they drop below 480 GL, which is when the Lakes return to NSW control.

The location of where water is stored in the Menindee Lakes, when it falls below 480 GL, has a significant impact on NSW and its ability to access water including how long this critical drought reserve can meet the demands of the community and environment.

“We have listened carefully to community concerns about the way the Menindee Lakes storage is being managed which is why we are taking action,” Mr Anderson said.

“NSW is currently reviewing the way the Lakes operate and investigating ways to increase the volume of water that is accessible for local and downstream communities when the Lakes return to NSW control.

“Addressing these issues is complex and challenging as the rules set out in the Murray Darling Basin Agreement clearly outline how the Lakes are required to be operated and implementing any changes will require approval by other Basin jurisdictions.

“That is why we are initiating discussions with other states and the MBDA to identify the most effective short and long-term solutions that will balance the needs of the environment, community and irrigators while improving drought security.

“This includes maximising the drawing of water from the lower lakes of Cawndilla and Menindee and retaining water for as long as possible in the more efficient and accessible upper lakes of Wetherell and Pamamaroo.”

Conversations will also canvas options to formalise arrangements that would enable operational water, that would otherwise become stranded and evaporate when Lake Cawndilla starts to dry and disconnects from Lake Menindee, to be released down the Great Darling Anabranch.

We hope these changes will enable around 100 GL of water that would otherwise be inaccessible to be better used to meet the needs of the Lower Darling and Menindee communities.

This will also provide environmental benefits arising from improved drought refuge for fish in a drying climate as well as allowing any fish stranded in Lake Cawndilla to move down to the River Murray.

“I understand the importance of the Menindee Lakes to both the local and downstream communities which is why I will be sitting around the table with my Basin colleagues to push for changes to how the Lakes are operated,” Mr Anderson said.

“With recent record water flows into the Lakes, this is the ideal time to carry out new modelling and work through options to enable us to act quickly when water levels drop and the next drought hits.

“Our focus is now on improving the ways we can protect and prolong inflows into the Far West system including improving water security for the Menindee Lakes.”

NSW will begin discussions with Basin jurisdictions this month, with meetings to be held throughout the year.

Sunset over Menindee lakes.
Sunset over Menindee Lakes.