NSW far west ‘sacrificed’ in basin plan

By AAP Newswire

Farmers in far western NSW warned the government they could be left without water if the Menindee Lakes were drained and now some are bracing for their first year without a harvest.

When the Murray-Darling Basin Authority ordered the lakes drained in 2017, citrus and grape grower Rachel Strachan urged them to stop, arguing producers on the Lower Darling would be left high and dry in the case of drought.

Her family, who live south of Pooncarie, now have only four months of water left.

"This is the first year we could lose our crop," she told AAP on Thursday.

"Unless the government embargoes the water up north, our crops will start to die."

The Menindee Lakes were meant to be an oasis for communities on the Lower Darling but locals argue they haven't seen the water they were promised.

Ms Strachan says more water is going to upstream irrigators and downstream to South Australia.

"You can't sacrifice us for the needs of the north and then, once we get water, we're sacrificed again for the needs of South Australia," she said.

A series of mass fish deaths over the summer in Menindee has put the health of the Darling River back in the spotlight.

Locals blame mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for the deaths of millions of fish.

Ms Strachan claims the plan prioritises upstream irrigators over the health of the river and town water supplies too.

"The health of the river has been forgotten in this," she said.

"The basin plan was meant to provide a healthy river, flows and fish passages and if you've got that - then you provide allocations to irrigators on top of that."

Murray Davies has vineyards on a nearby property and says the lack of secure water flows means stressful conversations at the family dinner table.

"The river has always been a part of my life and I've never seen or heard of it like this," he told AAP.

NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair is looking into the operation of Menindee Lakes which are only under the control of the state government when they drop below 480 gigalitres.

When the volume of water exceeds 640 gigalitres - like it did in 2017 - the Murray-Darling Basin Authority manages releases.

Mr Blair said he'd be more than happy to consider moving the lakes into NSW's control.