Computer models were used to claim salinity levels were rising when in fact concentrations had been falling for 20 years. The false claims proved embarrassing for the Howard government and it was eventually agreed that 500 gigalitres, rather than 1500GL of environmental flow, would be bought back under the Living Murray Initiative.
Now, despite the buyback of more than 900GL, this year's flooding rains and no salinity problem, taxpayers are likely to be again expected to foot the bill for more water buyback, this time ostensibly because the Lower Lakes need more fresh water.
NSW and Victorian irrigators worked hard to fix the salinity problem through the 1980s and 90s. It is now time for South Australians to fix the problem of the Lower Lakes and a lasting solution could be quickly achieved by the removal of the barrages and the restoration of the lakes to their natural estuarine state.
Permanently opening or removing the barrages would have an adverse effect on local irrigators who rely on the lakes.
Provisions would need to be made to buy back their irrigation licences. Consideration also could be given to compensating the commercial fishermen whose business depends on harvesting freshwater carp.
To keep the river fresh and protect Adelaide's water supply in times of drought, a weir needs to be built near Wellington. Consideration also could be given to construction of embankments on Currency Creek and Finniss River if these wetlands are to be conserved as fresh during drought.
But all of this is achievable, much less expensive and much more environmentally responsible than continuing to demand more water from upstream, particularly when supplies are limited during times of drought.
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