Friday, September 05, 2008

Murray Water Demands from Downstream

South Australians live at the end of the long Murray River system and spend a lot of time fearing someone upstream will steal their water.

As far back as federation, South Australians sought to have their perceived rights to the Murray's water enshrined nationally, and now national agreements do specify how NSW and Victoria service South Australia's water entitlement.

During the Howard Government years, Cabinet Ministers from South Australia were quick to scuttle any proposal not suiting their water agenda.  For example, consider when the Commonwealth Standing Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries handed down an interim report in March 2004.  It stated that the scientific evidence did not support various claims for more environmental flow for South Australia and Alexander Downer, then Foreign Minister, quickly quashed the report's findings.

The new Rudd government appointed a South Australian Senator, Penny Wong, to the newly-created portfolio of Federal Water Minister, and it has only got better for South Australia when the new Senate was installed last week.

New Green's Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, vowed to "put the Murray River at the top of Canberra's agenda".  She is supported by Senator Nick Xenophon, who launched his campaign for the Senate in front of the giraffe enclosure at the Adelaide Zoo, explaining he had decided to run for federal politics so he could stick his neck out for South Australia.

He'd nominated water as an issue he wanted to "fight on".

Not surprisingly, during the first week of Senate, last week, an emergency Senate inquiry was established to audit water availability, with calls to transfer water from upstream to South Australia, and compulsory acquisitions from upstream for their lakes.

The demands are really quite extraordinary given the protracted drought.

Adelaide could actually become independent of the Murray by moving to waste water recycling and desalination.

The lower lakes could also be "saved" by simply opening the barrages and letting the area flood with seawater.

This would solve the developing environmental problem with acid sulphate soils but create problems for the communities who rely on the lakes as a source of freshwater.

Perhaps for this reason, because of local politics, this obvious environmental solution of opening the barrages continues to be avoided.


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