Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project

The Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project aims to enhance the significant natural and cultural values of the Menindee Lakes while delivering on NSW Government’s commitment to the Murray Darling Basin Plan to adjust the sustainable diversion limit by reducing evaporative losses.

It is an opportunity to improve the efficiency of the Menindee storages and achieve environmental outcomes for the southern Murray Darling Basin.

The project is at a concept plan stage only and is not expected to be complete until 2024. During this time, extensive engagement with stakeholders and the community will be undertaken in order to assist with the ongoing development of the project.

The project currently consists of a package of proposed infrastructure works and measures that will deliver water efficiency savings, better river operations, and improved environmental outcomes at the same time as benefiting communities.

About the project

Further project information can be found in the following links:

Fact sheets

Frequently asked questions

How can stakeholders and the community get involved?

The NSW Government will consult extensively with water users and the community around the Menindee Lakes and Lower Darling on potential future management options for the lakes before any approach is finalised.

Engagement with stakeholders, landholders, and community members to incorporate various views, knowledge, and input into the ongoing development of the project is a key component toward its success.

Engagement will take place through a range of means; including stakeholder advisory panels, information sessions, and formal submission processes for both the Environmental Impact Statement and any amendments to relevant water sharing plans.

Targeted engagement is also expected to focus on issues such as (but will not be limited to) the proposed riparian flow regime for the Lower Darling, the Anabranch flow regime and mitigation measures, and the Lower Darling constraints relaxation measures.

All engagement activities will be conducted in a timely, transparent, and equitable manner. We will give specific dates and details of various engagement activities at appropriate stages of the project’s development.

What is the Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project?

The Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project (the project) is a package of proposed works and measures that aims to deliver better river operations, improved environmental and socioeconomic outcomes and water efficiency savings. It is a sustainable diversion limit (SDL) adjustment mechanism project under the Murray–Darling Basin Plan that is currently at concept design stage.

Through the proposed works and measures, the project will also help overcome system constraints and improve the ability for operators to achieve higher flow events in the Lower Murray.

Numerous proposals for changes to the Menindee Lakes have been under consideration for a number of years. An early proposal for the lakes was submitted to the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) in 2016. This was modified, following confirmation of the Wentworth to Broken Hill Pipeline, the structural adjustment and removal of irrigation demand at Tandou in the Lower Darling by the Commonwealth Government and further advice from the MDBA on options that would enhance water savings and the SDL adjustment volume overall. The published preliminary business case reflects these changes.

The project seeks to achieve significant water savings by further investigating the current proposal including:

  • allowing Lake Menindee to be operated independently of Lake Cawndilla, and ceasing to use Lake Cawndilla for water storage in all but the wettest years
  • considering alternative options for water security in the Lower Darling
  • permitting faster drawdown of water in Lake Menindee, including providing access to residual water
  • enlarging the outlet structure and constructing a drainage channel in the bed of Lake Menindee
  • increasing flexibility of supply by preferentially retaining water in the more efficient Lakes Wetherell and Pamamaroo
  • accommodating higher managed flows in the Lower Darling through works to:
    • manage breakouts onto the floodplain and into dry lakes and anabranches
    • protect private infrastructure from being impacted by higher flows, including changed operational rules to complement structural works.

We anticipate that there will be further changes to this proposal to increase social amenity and environmental outcomes as a result of consultation with the community, further studies and the environmental assessment process.

Why have the Menindee Lakes been selected by the Murray–Darling Basin Plan as a water savings opportunity?

Before the modification of the lakes in the 1950s and 1960s to provide a storage system, the lakes would naturally fill during high river flows and subsequently recede, forming a series of pools that would periodically evaporate entirely. The alteration of the lakes through the addition of weirs, regulators, levees, and channels to allow the storage and release of water has substantially changed this natural regime. Storing water within the lakes results in evaporative losses of an average 426 GL per year.

As well as being a significant source of water for local towns and users, the lakes are also located in an area of environmental, social and cultural significance, and provide recreational, tourism and economic opportunities for the towns and surrounding region.

The Menindee Lakes System is an ecologically significant area of the Murray–Darling Basin, providing key habitat for aquatic fauna, including important nursery grounds and recruitment hotspots that support native fish populations of the Barwon, Darling and Murray Rivers, with the natural wetting and drying cycle of the lakes being a key driver of primary productivity in the Lower Darling and fish movement into the northern basin.

Since their modification, the Menindee Lakes have generally been operated to maximise the storage volumes, water quality, and ability to supply users, and to minimise evaporation and mitigate floods where possible. Since the 1990s, operations have also focused on providing ecological benefits, managing flood mitigation for the Lower Darling to provide environmental benefits, controlling foreshore erosion, and minimising erosion of cultural heritage sites.

Regulation of the lakes has increased sedimentation and reduced accessibility of water, while also altering the flow regime in the Lower Darling and reducing the frequency of overbank flow events and freshes. Similarly, the frequency and volume of inundation events in the Great Darling Anabranch have reduced as a result of upstream regulation and extraction.

Further, there are a range of ecological targets associated with the flow regime for the Lower Darling floodplain that are difficult to meet because of existing operational constraints including regulator capacities, operational policy, and the need to ensure reliability of water supply to Broken Hill and Menindee.

Altering the existing operational strategies and developing new or modified infrastructure has the potential to address many of these issues, while providing water savings to meet NSW’s commitments under the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

How will the project help to meet targets set by the Murray–Darling Basin Plan?

The project would allow for water to be concentrated in the more efficient upper two lakes, which would reduce the amount of water lost due to evaporation. The larger Menindee Lake outlet would also contribute to water savings by enhancing the rate of drawdown of the lake and reduce evaporative losses.

The proposed changes would help to minimise evaporation from the lakes, while ensuring efficient supply and delivery of water for both users and the environment. This in turn would allow us to respond more flexibly to changing climatic conditions now and into the future.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s modelling of the complete sustainable diversion limit (SDL) adjustment mechanism package suggests that the Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project, if implemented in conjunction with all of the other SDL projects on the Murray–Darling, will deliver average water savings of around 106 GL per year. These water savings would be available for environmental outcomes.

The water savings means less water needs to be taken out of productive use in NSW in order to meet NSW’s share of water recovery. Water saved will not be used to underpin increases in upstream irrigation entitlements or diversion limits.

What are the potential benefits of the project?

The project is expected to provide significant benefits as a result of the proposed infrastructure works and measures. These benefits may include, but may not be exclusive to:

  • an increase in the frequency and duration of small overbank flows to sustain and improve floodplain health and the connections between areas of habitat while also contributing to improved flows in the Murray River
  • increased average river flows into the Lower Darling, helping to deliver environmental benefits for a range of ecosystems
  • new fishways to allow up- and down-stream movement for native fish to assist in overcoming existing barriers to fish passage
  • reinstatement of the natural drying cycles of the Lake Wetherell floodplain, restoring more natural conditions and therefore benefiting the flora and fauna that inhabit the lake shore environments
  • employment opportunities in the Menindee Lakes region during the period of delivery, particularly during the detailed design and construction phases. In particular, the project will support the NSW policy of seeking greater participation by Aboriginal people in government construction projects.

How is the NSW Government consulting the community in decisions about the project?

NSW Government understands that, as well as being a significant source of water for local towns and users, the lakes are also located in an area of environmental, social and cultural significance, and provide recreational, tourism and economic opportunities for the towns and surrounding region.

The NSW Government will consult extensively with water users and the community around the Menindee Lakes and Lower Darling on potential future management options for the lakes before any approach is finalised, and further details will be available soon.

How is the NSW Government considering Aboriginal Cultural Heritage aspects of the project?

Works completed to date have indicated that more than 400 registered Aboriginal sites are located within the proposed project area. The native title rights and interest of the Barkandji People have also be recognised by the Federal Court.

The NSW Government will ensure sites with Aboriginal cultural heritage significance are managed appropriately. Consultation with local Aboriginal communities and cultural heritage site surveys will be required as part of the assessments and approvals processes.

In addition, we will talk to the Aboriginal community about establishing an Aboriginal Advisory Committee as part the governance arrangements for the project so that Aboriginal peoples’ input will be considered in the ongoing development of the project.

Further, the NSW Government recognises that water is critical for social, environmental, economic and cultural health and well-being.

Water is protected in legislation. The water laws establish statutory water sharing plans to deliver balanced outcomes for water users and the environment. Social and cultural objectives are included in water sharing plans.

NSW is currently revising the water sharing plan objectives to enable improved reporting on the performance of water sharing plans.

Have your say

The NSW Government is committed to working with stakeholders and communities to improve the management of our water resources for communities, the environment, culture and heritage and the economy.

Engagement with stakeholders, landholders, and community members to enable incorporation of various views, knowledge, and input into the ongoing development of the project remains a key component of its success.

Engagement will take place through a range of means, including Stakeholder Advisory Panels, information sessions, and formal submission processes for both the Environmental Impact Statement and any amendments to relevant Water Sharing Plans.

It is intended that all engagement activities will be conducted in a timely, transparent, and equitable manner. Specific dates and details on various engagement activities will continue to be advised at appropriate stages of the project’s development.