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So rich, we can afford to keep 'Saving the Murray River'

By Jennifer Marohasy - posted Wednesday, 10 May 2006


Fall rapidly from the mountains in which they originate into a level and extremely depressed country; having weak and inconsiderable sources, and being almost wholly unaided by tributories of any kind, they naturally fail before they reach the coast and exhaust themselves in marshes or lakes; or reach it so weakened as to be unable to preserve clear or navigable mouths, or to remove the sand banks that the tides throw up before them.

But in the intervening years, South Australians, the Australian Conservation Foundation and others have conspired to rewrite history. The sandbars at the bottom of the lakes now equal inadequate environmental flow.

When I asked the Murray Darling Commission in June 2004 how much water is already allocated as environmental flow they explained they didn’t know because:

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Environmental water comes in a variety of forms including minimum flows, environmental flow rules, contingency allowances and tradeable entitlements.

In the 1960s and ’70s salt levels were rising and hundreds of millions of dollars of public money was pledged to build salt interception schemes. The first was completed in 1982. They have been spectacularly successful. Salinity levels at the key site of Morgan, which is just upstream from the offshoot for Adelaide’s water supply, are now half what they were 20 years ago.

How much lower does the government want to push salt levels? The Murray is not a European river, the Australian landscape is naturally salty and many native fish species are adapted to fluctuating levels of salt including periods of high salinity particularly during droughts.

I am curious that the Government has made the Murray River a focus for environmental expenditure again this year, this budget. A commitment of $500 million from Australian tax payers, and 500 gigalitres of water for the environment is an enormous investment. I can only conclude that we are indeed a rich society if we can afford so much, for so little obvious environment gain - or hasn’t anyone realised that the Murray River has already been saved?

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About the Author

Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs.

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