The Menindee Lakes are part of the Murray-Darling Basin – the largest basin in Australia, spanning one-seventh of the continent. 2.2 million people live across its area, and its surface water supplies about 40 per cent of Australia’s irrigated agricultural output.

Our study led by researchers at the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Sydney examined a large water-savings project at Menindee Lakes in News South Wales, called the Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project.

The $151.8 million project’s goal is to save water for the Murray Darling Basin Plan by implementing infrastructure measures and rule changes to reduce water lost to evaporation from Menindee Lakes.

We investigated the decision-making in relation to the ecology and management of the project, alongside scientific evidence and stakeholder consultation, identifying significant weaknesses in the governance approach for the project.

Specifically, we examined long-term rainfall and waterbird population data at Menindee Lakes in association with flows, alongside the evidence basis for government decision-making for the project. We also interviewed local communities, dependent on the lakes, in relation to the ecological condition, consultation processes and future options for the Menindee Lakes and the Barka/Darling River upstream. 

The paper in international journal Ecology and Society and its accompanying report found that the NSW Government project to alter the Menindee Lakes lacked rigorous evidence, transparency and effective community engagement.

This report and our paper, published in Ecology and Society, details six key findings:

  • Flows to Menindee Lakes have significantly declined
  • Traditional owners (the Barkandji people), local residents, and farmers voiced concern over the ecological condition of the lakes
  • Objective expertise was not part of the decision-making process for the Menindee Lakes project
  • Further, there was little rigorous or transparent evidence to justify the water savings purported
  • Government options presented for the proposed management of Menindee Lakes lacked administrative legitimacy
  • A focus on achieving Murray Darling Basin scale water savings outcomes at the local scale missed the opportunity to develop a management plan locally, with communities. 

Along with 4 recommendations:

  • Future plans for the Menindee Lakes should adequately incorporate ecologically sustainable principles.
  • Future plans should consider social and environmental costs and investigate opportunities to save water by reinstating natural drying and flooding patterns for the lakes.
  • A more equitable decision-making process could be achieved through more transparent and equitable community engagement.
  • All relevant government agencies should be included in decision-making for Menindee Lakes.

Full report

Published paper


Zoe Ford profile photo
PhD Student | Centre for Ecosystem Science
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Sue Jackson

Professor | School of Environment and Science - Environment and Marine

Griffith University, Queensland


Senior Lecturer | Centre for Ecosystem Science Gilad Bino
Senior Lecturer | Centre for Ecosystem Science
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Professor | Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science Richard Kingsford
Professor | Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science
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Senior Research Fellow | Centre for Ecosystem Science Kate Brandis
Senior Research Fellow | Centre for Ecosystem Science
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