The floodwaters snaking their way through the Darling-Baaka River system in northern New South Wales have finally made it to the Menindee Lakes, to the delight of the severely drought-affected community.
- Community welcomes the return of substantial water flows to the region following prolonged drought
- Murray-Darling Basin Authority takes control of the lakes’ management when it exceeds 640GL
- Locals say the birds have already arrived and soon the tourists will follow
The Menindee Lakes are a system of nine large, shallow lakes in far-western New South Wales.
This is the first time since 2016 there has been enough water to open the gates between Lake Pamamaroo and Lake Menindee.
Derek Hardman, chief executive of the Barkandji Registered Native Title Group Aboriginal Corporation, said the community was celebrating.
“You don’t know whether to smile, cry, laugh,” he said.
“It’s pretty emotional when you’ve seen this landscape basically barren, dead, gone — everything that has relied on it, even us as people, our birds, animals, plants, I think they’re all smiling. It’s something to celebrate.”
Mr Hardman said as river people, to see the return of the water was deeply important for Barkandji culture.
Controversial management decisions
About 650 gigalitres of water was expected to arrive into the lakes system, adding to the 371GL already there.
When the water volume in the Menindee Lakes exceeds 640GL, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) takes control of the system from the NSW government.
It can access water in the lakes on behalf of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, and to support entitlements in the River Murray.
Modelling indicates between 300 and 500 gigalitres will be released into Lake Menindee, of which approximately 100GL will be lost to seepage into the dry lakebed.
Previous MDBA management decisions have been controversial, such as when the lakes last filled, much of the water was released to meet demand downstream in the Murray-Darling system.
“Leave it alone, let us manage it properly, and let’s sit at the table and work out how we can best manage it and keep it here as long as we can,” Mr Hardman said.
NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey attended the opening of the flood gates and said she would work to ensure the water was managed appropriately.
“We have this bounty of water coming, it’s like a big Christmas present — it will sustain the lakes for a couple of years and everybody wants as much water to be kept there for that community to enjoy,” she said.
Grazier Terry Smith said it was great to see the water coming through, but there were underlying issues with the water-sharing rules which he said were not geared to get water to Menindee.
“So while the lakes are full and the pressure is off, it would be a great time to have that conversation with the Water Minister and see if we can actually get some meaningful change there.
“[Change] that allows the smaller flows to come through than can sustain that water in the lakes with a lot less water.”
Tourism boom for far-west NSW
Locals say the birds have already arrived and soon the tourists will follow.
“The birds are there in great numbers, it’s a great sight to see.
“Last time the lakes filled up about 10 years ago … the road there was as busy as I’ve ever seen it, hundreds of cars a day.
“The community social club has the bar open every Saturday afternoon and they’ve been looking at a clay pan for the last four years, so it won’t be a bad Saturday afternoon drive to go down there and have a couple of quiet ones and watch the waves come in.”