The release of the previously secret Final Business Case for the $500 million Broken Hill water pipeline makes clear that the interests of Northern Basin irrigators and mining proposals in the Broken Hill district were significant considerations in the NSW Government’s decision.
Independent MP Justin Field was successful in forcing the release of the Final Business Case following a protracted Parliamentary fight between May and August this year. (See the document in two parts here)
Justin Field said, “anyway you cut this, the pipeline is a half billion dollar gift to Northern Basin irrigators.
“The business case shows what many in the Broken Hill community who were opposed to the pipeline long suspected, that decoupling Broken Hill’s water supply from the Menindee Lakes would reduce the need for flows down the Darling and open up more water for Northern Irrigators.
Cotton Australia belled the cat in their 2016/17 annual report (p13) in response to the pipeline announcement: “...the pipeline will help drought proof Broken Hill which, in turn, will provide more flexibility for managing the Menindee Lakes and also allow optimal use of water resources in the system for environmental and irrigation purposes. The pipeline is a win for the community, the environment and irrigating farmers, and a solution Cotton Australia and its allies have long lobbied for.”
The reality is that Broken Hill didn’t have a water security problem until upstream irrigators were allowed by the NSW Government to suck the river system. This pipeline allows that unsustainable water use to continue and risks the long-term health of the river and the Menindee Lakes.
“The Government couldn’t be clearer, under Summary of Benefits of the Business Case, the first benefit listed is: “avoided costs of water embargoes on Northern Rivers irrigators (ie. loss cotton production)”. (p58)
Elsewhere in the Business Case (p42): “Ultimately, the State’s ability to manage environmental, agricultural and industry water requirements within the Basin is limited by Broken Hill’s reliance on the Menindee Lakes system.
The report also outlines (p42) the claim by The Cotton Irrigator Association “that recent water access restrictions of 23GL cost the Northern River region approximately $60m in lost production.
The report also outlines (p36) the prospect for new mining in the region including proposals for an expansion of Cristal Mines’ mineral sands operation and Carpentaria’s magnetite proposals and their need for additional water.
The release of the business case follows the release of the Natural Resources Commission review of the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan released last month. The report suggests that over-extraction in the Northern Basin brought on the drought conditions in the Southern Basin three years earlier than in upstream sections.
Justin Field said, “The reality is that this has been a manufactured crisis. Without the need to ensure water in the lakes to provide for Broken Hill’s water supply, the Northern Basin irrigators are going to have their hands out for more. That’s a disaster for the river.
“The release of the business case should escalate calls for the NRC’s recommendations for changes to the Northern Basin water sharing plans to be brought forward and implemented in full. There is also a need to press pause on the Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project until the full impacts on the health of the river and all users is understood.
“If the Government fails to implement these as a matter of urgency it shows they are prepared to condemn the river and the Menindee Lakes to death.
“Ultimately the release of this business case shows the Broken Hill community was right all along to be concerned about the future of Menindee Lakes and the Darling River if the pipeline was built,” Justin Field said.