Meningie residents say no to State Government plan on salinity

 The Lake Albert Community Reference Group, whose members include Sam Dodd, Neil Shillabeer and Bill Henshall, has rejected the State Government's choice of water cycling as the best way to cure the lake's salinity problems.
The Lake Albert Community Reference Group, whose members include Sam Dodd, Neil Shillabeer and Bill Henshall, has rejected the State Government's choice of water cycling as the best way to cure the lake's salinity problems.

Residents from Meningie and surrounding areas have rejected the State Government’s plan to save Lake Albert from salinity.

About 25 locals at a community reference group meeting on Wednesday rejected the government’s proposal to cycle the lake’s water, raising and lowering it over time, to make it usable for irrigation and livestock.

Instead they insisted a pipe or channel be built to connect the lake with the Coorong, allowing water to flow through.

For visiting staff from the Department for the Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), the meeting was perhaps their best chance at convincing residents lake cycling would be enough to do the job.

But after decades of such promises from State and Federal governments, the locals present did not believe it was the case.

Bill Henshall said building up the 400 gigalitres of water necessary for a cycle would take too long.

“Lake cycling will work on one condition: we have water,” he said.

“In all seriousness, if you look at the thing, we’ve not got the water to make it work.”

Other delegates questioned whether cycling would help the southern end of the lake, where water was most stagnant.

DEWNR River Murray Operations and Major Projects director Andrew Beal admitted building a connector and lake cycling would both reduce salinity from its current level, around 2375 electrical conductivity (EC) units, but that the latter option had proven quicker and cheaper.

“We’ve done it three times already,” he said.

“We get a 200-300 EC benefit each time we go through a cycle.” Salinity levels would be brought below 2000 EC units within about two years, he said, and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan would prevent them ever rising so high again.

Still, locals questioned DEWNR’s cost-benefit analysis on the $19 million connector.

DEWNR found the irrigated area around Meningie would have to reach more than 5000 hectares just to break even, but a Regional Development Australia study in February estimated a potential $30.7 million benefit to the community.

“Has anybody ever tried to put more water in a bath when it’s full?” one delegate asked.

“You’ve got to pull the plug out at the bottom end - that’s what we want down here.

“You’ll never get it done otherwise.”

Requests for more research into the connector option, and for the release of more detail about the cost-benefit analysis, will be forwarded to State River Murray Minister Ian Hunter.