Highway blockade to protest NSW water policy

By Jamieson Salter

Western NSW communities will protest water management through a blockade of the Barrier Hwy, where it crosses the Darling River, on Friday.

The March 13 protest hopes to force state and federal government action by drawing the attention of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Wilcannia elder David Clark said the enactment of the Water Management (General) Amendment (Exemptions for Floodplain Harvesting) Regulation 2020 was the "straw that broke the camel's back".

“This exacerbated the already dire situation, making it easier for corporations to access our water by making them exempt from the requirements to hold a water access licence or a water supply work approval, when taking water through flood plain harvesting,” he said.

“Unless there is water in Menindee and water is managed for everyone only a select few will benefit.”

The Menindee Lakes in NSW have retained water for the first time since 2016.

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said flows travelled down the Barwon-Darling system and entered Lake Wetherell.

“Lake Wetherell could see inflows of between 230 and 260 Gl, equating to more than 12 months of town water supply for the Lower Darling, and we are expecting to see much more water flow into the Menindee Lakes over the coming weeks and months,” she said.

“It’s a relief to see this water replenishing parts of the state that have arguably endured the longest and most severe of the drought conditions.”

Murray-Darling Basin Authority river management executive director Andrew Reynolds said although the rain had brought relief for many drought-affected communities, it was important to keep it all in perspective.

“This summer was the second-warmest summer on record and there are still critical water supply issues for some of our towns in the north,” Mr Reynolds said.

“Things are looking better than they have for a long time, but it’s too early to say the drought has broken.”

The 80 mm of rain averaged across the basin in the last month was double the long-term February average, but summer overall was still 16 per cent drier than average.

The heaviest falls in the first week of March were isolated to areas including Dederang in the Kiewa Valley at 170 mm and Hungerford on the Paroo River at 125 mm.