Nationals split over Macquarie pipeline

THE controversial plan to pump water from a sensitive section of the Macquarie River to back up Orange’s water supply has resulted in a split within the Nationals Party.

The state and federal governments have committed $38 million to fund the pipeline, despite environment authorities having many concerns, including an estimate that 70 per cent of the water pumped from the river will spill or evaporate.

In a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the founder of Clean Up Australia, Ian Kiernan, has described the plan as “monstrous” and an act of “lunacy”.

Orange City Council wants to build the 39-kilometre pipeline from the Macquarie River, which is part of the Murray-Darling Basin, to channel 1600 million litres of water a year to the city’s Suma Park Dam. It says the $47 million project would guarantee Orange’s water supply for the next 50 years and have “minimal” impacts on the river.

As Fishing World has reported at length, the pipeline project is expected to have a devastating impact on the river’s native fishery which includes a healthy recovering population of endangered trout cod. A group of anglers visited the area last December to highlight the quality of the fishery and the fragile nature of the river’s ecosystem – report here:

Orange suffered badly during the decade-long drought that ended in 2010 and the city still faces water shortages. But the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage has criticised the plan in a submission, saying “the sustainability and efficiency of the project is of serious concern”.

It said “the potential for impact on vulnerable and endangered aquatic species is likely” and the assessment of the effects on aquatic life near the extraction point was “inadequate”.

The department said the council used an improper method to measure the impact on environmental flows. Its assessment of downstream impacts, including the internationally significant Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve, was also inadequate, it said.

About 70 per cent of water pumped to an open reservoir would be lost to “spillage and evaporation” each year, and it called for water to be stored in a closed reservoir or pumped directly to treatment.

The Bathurst MP, Paul Toole, says the pipeline could restrict growth in his city and that other options, such as dam expansion, should be considered, a claim echoed by the Dubbo MP, Troy Grant.

But the Orange MP, Andrew Gee, said the project should be determined on its merits “and not on the perceived economic or political interests” of other towns.

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Read related report HERE and view a video HERE.

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