Broken Hill has become “drought-proof” according to the State Government, as the final section of a 22,000-piece pipeline connecting Broken Hill to the Murray River was laid on Friday.
Regional Water Minister Niall Blair visited Broken Hill to oversee the instalment of the final pipe and to spruik the Coalition Government’s achievements in delivering the project ahead of schedule and under budget.
- The pipeline will carry water 270km from Wentworth to Broken Hill
- The Government guarantees water prices in Broken Hill will not rise for four years
- Environmental groups say the money could have been better spent by improving the Menindee Lakes
“We have secured the long-term viability of this community,” he said.
“This community needed decisive action from the Government and that’s what they’ve got.”
The Minister boasted an injection of $35 million into the Broken Hill and Wentworth community’s economies, the creation of 150 local jobs, and the use of 28,000 tonnes of Australian steel in the construction process.
He also announced an “iron-clad guarantee” that water prices in Broken Hill would not rise for the next four years.
“We’ve stumped up the money to build this, and now we’re also going to cover the costs for the community in relation to the operation, maintenance and depreciation of the pipeline from 2019 to 2023,” he said.
The $467 million pipeline will carry water 270 kilometres from Wentworth up to Broken Hill, alleviating pressure on the struggling Darling River, from where Broken Hill currently receives water.
Several sections of the pipeline were vandalised while in storage earlier this year. (Facebook: Save the Murray Darling Basin)
Not everyone is happy with pipeline
While the Government is satisfied with its achievements, other groups have been staunchly opposed to the pipeline’s construction.
Perceptions of water mismanagement in the lower Darling River are among the major concerns for critics.
“We’ve got communities like Tilpa, Louthe, Wilcannia, Pooncarie and Menindee, and all the graziers in between, who are going to suffer because that river will have less water in it,” environmental activist Darryn Clifton said.
Mr Blair last night received a death threat from a person posting on the Broken Hill and Darling River Action Group Facebook page.
The group’s secretary Darryn Clifton was quick to denounce the individual’s actions, but said the group had genuine concerns.
“We oppose the pipeline because we’ve been supplied with good quality water for the last 60-odd years from the Darling River,” he said.
“For years we’ve heard the State and Federal Governments want to fix the evaporation problem of the Menindee Lakes.
“This half-a-billion dollars of taxpayer money could have been better spent on infrastructure works to improve the lakes.”
The Menindee lakes were originally a series of natural depressions that filled during floods. (ABC News: Laura Brierley Newton)
Menindee Lakes issues being looked at
Mr Blair said the State Government was working with the Federal Government on engineering solutions to secure the lake system.
“At the moment we’ve got Deloitte looking at options for the Lower Darling, and we’ve also got money from Canberra and the business case to address the Menindee lakes. We’re doing it all,” he said.
Another element of the criticism levelled at both governments’ approach to the Menindee Lakes is a perceived lack of consultation with Indigenous communities and traditional landowners.
According to a report prepared by Jacobs and commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and Water, the government’s business case for the lakes would have benefited from “further detail on how impacts to Aboriginal heritage will be managed or mitigated”.
But Mr Blair said not only had consultation with the Barkindji people of the Darling River been extensive, but the construction of the pipeline had employed many Indigenous people.
Despite the controversy, the pipeline will enter its commissioning phase in December and is set to be fully operational by April.