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 and the river before any approach is finalised.

The NSW government has established a formal Stakeholder Advisory Group which will enable the exploration of options and alternatives for the Project with community and stakeholder group representatives to ensure that local knowledge is incorporated into the project design and outcomes.

Throughout the life of the project, additional opportunities including information sessions and formal submission processes for both the Environmental Impact Statement and any amendments to relevant water sharing plans will be made available to the wider community.

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.

Background information on the Menindee Lakes

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. On average the Menindee Lakes lose 426 gigalitres of water annually to evaporation. Up to 700 gigalitres can be lost to evaporation annually when the lakes are full.

Each lake also contains a percentage of ‘dead storage’ that cannot be accessed for consumptive use, and may therefore also be lost to evaporation. This “dead storage” is estimated at more than 119 gigalitres for the four main lakes.

If evaporative water loss from the Menindee Lakes could be reduced, significantly more water could be made available for the environment.

As well as being a significant source of water for local towns and users, the lakes are also located in an area of 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.

Since their modification, the Menindee Lakes have generally been operated to maximise the storage volumes, water quality, and ability to supply users. 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, reducing accessibility of water, and has also altered the flow regime in the Lower Darling, reducing the frequency of overbank flow events and freshes.

There are a range of ecological targets associated with the flow regime for the Lower Darling floodplain that are currently difficult to meet because of existing operational constraints including regulator capacities and operational policy, and the need to ensure reliability of local town water supply.

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

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 has established a formal community advisory group which will enable the exploration of options and alternatives for the Project with community and stakeholder group representatives to ensure that local knowledge is incorporated into the project design and outcomes.

The broader community will be engaged and consulted through a range of channels before any approach is finalised.

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

The Barkandji People hold native title rights and interests in the Lower Darling River and Menindee Lakes system so the project needs to comply with the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993.

Survey completed to date have indicated that more than 400 registered Aboriginal sites are located within the proposed project area.

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.

Where can we find information on changes to metering and water sharing plans?

There have been a number of changes to metering and water sharing plans within recent years. Information on the changes to metering and water sharing plans can be found on the following websites:

What measures are being taken by the NSW Government to better manage environmental water in the northern rivers of the Murray Darling Basin?

The NSW government is committed to improving the way in which we manage environmental water in northern NSW. The New South Wales and Commonwealth Governments have invested public funds in recovering water for the environment.

Environmental water must be better managed to maximise environmental outcomes that improve the health of the Basin. An Interagency Working Group (IWG) with New South Wales and Commonwealth agency representation was established in February 2018 to develop options on how the NSW government can better manage environmental water. The NSW government is progressing the recommendations of the IWG’s interim solutions package to better manage environmental water. Further information is available at Better Management of Environmental Water.

What measures are the NSW Government taking to manage floodplain harvesting?

In 2013, the NSW Government introduced the Floodplain Harvesting Policy to stop unconstrained floodplain harvesting by bringing it into a licensed framework. The policy is currently being implemented in the designated floodplains of the five northern valleys. It will then be rolled out across the state. Further information is available at Floodplain Harvesting.

How are the Menindee Lakes currently operated?

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 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.

The Menindee Lakes storage is owned and operated by New South Wales with a long standing arrangement under the Murray Darling Basin Agreement. This Agreement requires the Murray Darling Basin Authority (the MDBA) to include the water held within the lakes as part of the shared resource of the River Murray System, and use the water in the lakes when the volume is above 640 GL until it next falls below 480 GL.

Once the total volume of the lakes falls below 480GL, the held water is no longer considered a shared resource of the River Murray System and the water is managed by New South Wales to meet local demands. Some of the water within the Menindee Lakes system is considered dead storage and cannot be accessed for release. The dead storage volume within the system is 125 gigalitres.

To ensure critical water supply needs can be met during periods of low inflows as well as to minimise evaporative water losses, Lakes Wetherell and Pamamaroo are preferentially used to store water ahead of Lakes Menindee and Cawndilla. In most instances, water released to meet immediate consumptive demands comes initially from Lake Menindee, then Lake Cawndilla and Lake Wetherell.

As in other catchments, water is supplied according to the order of priority of licences, particularly during periods where water availability is limited and use may need to be restricted to protect water for critical needs. This protection of stored water can become particularly crucial as water volumes drop, and as evaporative losses become more significant and water salinity increases.

In an extended period of low inflows, the salinity can become sufficient to make the water in the lakes unsuitable for irrigation or town water supply regardless of availability. It does, however, remain an important refuge habitat for aquatic and terrestrial fauna until the next major inflow.

During periods of flood, the lakes are operated to maintain the structural integrity of existing infrastructure, to maintain the security of existing water entitlements, and to minimise damage to downstream properties where possible.

Inflows are managed based on a series of considerations including water quality, levee bank stability and pre-releases to mimic a more natural flow pattern. Water can also be transferred from Lake Menindee to Lake Victoria in the Lower Murray under a ‘harmony operation’ if flows in the Lower Murray are not meeting consumptive and environmental demands for water. Water for additional dilution flow procedures can also be called from the lakes during periods of storage excess.