'Outrageous': Farmers, Broken Hill mayor call for $467 million pipeline halt
Garnering a petition of more than 13,000 signatories opposed to a $467 million water pipeline and travelling the length of the state to deliver it weren't enough to earn the mayor of Broken Hill and other delegates a meeting with Premier Gladys Berejiklian or rural water minister Niall Blair.
Organisers of the petition want a moratorium on construction of the pipeline between Wentworth on the Murray River and Broken Hill until all inquiries into alleged water theft and corruption on the Darling and Barwon Darling rivers have been completed.
"We think [the pipeline] will be a disaster for our region and for Broken Hill," Katharine McBride, a pastoralist on the lower Darling, said. "Our voices aren't being heard and our river is dying."
One concern is the 270-kilometre pipeline will allow the government to decommission at least three of the four Menindee Lakes that now provide water to the far western city, but also help maintain downstream flows on the Darling.
"We'd have no water for our stock or for ourselves," Ms McBride said. Her family, which has been in the region since the 1940s, runs about 20,000 sheep on nearly 275,000 hectares.
The NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said it was "disgraceful" the premier had failed to meet the delegation.
"People out at Broken Hill and on the lower Darling are furious about the pipeline that they see as the death knell for the Darling River," Mr Buckingham said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Blair said the government had "carefully considered every possible option for securing the long-term water supply in Broken Hill and we are now in the process of delivering, with construction under way".
"The pipeline was identified by experts from DPI Water, NSW Public Works and Infrastructure NSW as the best solution and the consideration involved extensive economic, social, environmental and technical analysis," she said.
Darriea Turley, Mayor of Broken Hill, said her council had called for a moratorium since last July, when ABC broadcast claims of water theft on Four Corners. A slew of reviews have followed, including one by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
"This is a long-term fight," Cr Turley said on Tuesday, as she prepared to fly home. "We're not going away just because we're from the Outback."
Cr Turley said her city's households could face bills of more than $500 a year for the pipeline.
"None [of the business case] has been shared with the community," she said.
"The final business case was developed for the express purpose of government deliberation and decision and not for broader public release," Mr Blair's spokeswoman, said.
Mr Blair agreed to write to both the Broken Hill and Wentworth Shire mayors in early 2018 "about the need for the pipeline as well as ongoing costs", she said..
Opponents say construction should be halted until scientists can determine whether recent low levels in the Menindee Lakes were caused by excessive upstream water extraction.
"We want a debate over whether this is a man-made drought or a natural occurrence," Cr Turley said. "It's shameful that the Darling is in the state that it is. It's just outrageous."
Chris Minns, Labor's water spokesman, said upstream cotton farmers were getting preferential treatment.
"Water needs to flow down the entire Darling River," Mr Minns said. "It can't just be apportioned and sectioned off for those upstream."
Ms McBride said protest groups plan to blockade construction work at the Wentworth end of the proposed pipeline when work begins on February 15.