By JOHN DOOLEY
MEMBER for Murray Austin Evans was in Sunraysia this week as part of a visit to the Wentworth Shire to meet with water authorities and stakeholders to discuss issues related to the acute shortages in the Lower Darling region.
“I’ve met with the Wentworth Council and I have also had meetings in Pooncarie with State Water and stakeholders to try and work through some of the water issues on the Lower Darling,” Mr Evans said.
“This dovetailed nicely, as we have been talking to both the Shire and some users on the Lower Darling about how we can find solutions for the short-term and the long-term to address the shortages of water.
“It’s timely that State Water was out here to coincide with my visit to the region, which worked out well and we’ve been able to hold some constructive discussions.”
Mr Evans said that NSW Land and Water Commissioner, Jock Laurie, was also in the Shire for discussions with Wentworth Council, and had visited Broken Hill as well.
“It was good to have Jock on board for some of our discussions, like all of us he is working hard to address the issues,” he said. “We’re all concerned that there haven’t been any inflows into the Menindee Lakes recently, and the last time the system had decent water levels was back in 2016 during the floods following a wet winter.”
THE regulation of the Menindee Lakes is part of the Water Sharing Plan for the NSW Murray and Lower Darling Regulated Rivers Water Sources, which commenced in 2004 and was replaced with a new plan in July 2016.
It includes rules for protecting the environment, water extractions, managing licence holders’ water accounts and water trading in the plan area.
“There are a series of issues all running in parallel, and there are number of growers who have concerns with the way the plan is structured and blame it for a lot of the problems, some calling it a ‘man-made’ drought,” Mr Evans said.
“So this is an important issue that needs a viable and equitable long-term solution.
“There’s the reconfiguration of the Menindee Lakes which is one of the SDL adjustment projects, and the process around the detail of how that will be implemented is under way, and any decisions around that will impact growers and the community along the Lower Darling.
“The other issue we are having to deal with is the short-term situation, and if we don’t receive any substantial rain up north for an extended period, how do we manage water shortages for the people along the Lower Darling and the Pooncarie township?”
Mr Evans said State Water were looking into these management issues this week including putting block banks in the lower region to shore up supply for the half-a-dozen or so irrigators in the southern end.
“There is also debate about how we ensure the water supply for the Pooncarie township is secure,” he said.
IT was mooted a few months ago that the NSW Government might consider building a pipeline to Pooncarie, similar to the Broken Hill pipeline which will draw water from the Murray.
Mr Evans said he wasn’t aware of any serious proposal, but said it was possibly an option if a viable business case could be put up.
Mr Evans also recently announced that he is setting up an electorate office in Wentworth, something he believes is an important addition to the region.
“Even before I was elected, during my visit to the region campaigning, I realised just how far away this part of the world is from the rest of the electorate – places like Griffith and Deniliquin – two population bases that we have covered, but out here, not so,” he said.
“I had spare capacity in the Deniliquin electorate office where we have two staff, but with an entitlement to have three.
“I made submission to the Speaker of the NSW Parliament to seek permission to establish the third position and have it located in Wentworth, and after almost eight months that approval was granted.”
MR Evans said he is enjoying his role as local member immensely, and hopes to be a regular visitor to the region, something his predecessor was restricted in doing due to his heavy Ministerial responsibilities.
“Since becoming the member I have learned just how diverse this electorate is, and I think the Shire appreciates me coming to town,” he said. “It’s part of my background having been a Councillor and a Mayor, during which time I met all of the Mayors and GMs throughout the electorate in my role as Deputy chair of RAMROC (Riverina and Murray Regional Organisation of Councils).
“For me it’s a natural thing to chat to Council and to meet with constituents and stakeholders to hear their concerns first- hand.”