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Murray-Darling plan tours Griffith -

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Murray-Darling plan tours Griffith

Broadcast: 14/12/2011

Reporter: Mike Sexton

Some irrigators along the Murray-Darling Basin believe proposed cuts to water allocation threaten
their farms, while others argue more water is vital for rivers and wetlands. The issue will be
debated at Griffith in central New South Wales, as Water Minister Tony Burke fronts residents.


CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: Two weeks after releasing the Murray-Darling Basin plan, the Government
is still busy selling it. Tomorrow, Water Minister Tony Burke and authority chair Craig Knowles
will be in Griffith, where copies of the Basin guide were burned last year.

Irrigators believe cuts to water allocations threaten their farms, but others argue more water is
vital for rivers and wetlands.

Mike Sexton has reported from irrigation communities and tonight looks at the other side of the

PETER CALE, ECOLOGIST: It's been an absolutely amazing change in those processes. A lot of those
trees that I thought were dead are actually regenerating and producing leaf and hopefully will
recover to a certain degree.

MIKE SEXTON, REPORTER: All year Peter Cale has been documenting the transformation of his part of
the Murray-Darling Basin, watching what happens when drought turns to flood.

This is Lake Merreti on Calperum Station, an old pastoral lease 20 minutes north of Renmark, near
where South Australia meets NSW and Victoria. But the ecologist doesn't see it as a lake so much as
a filter.

PETER CALE: All of these environmental components hold the salt back, they actually filter out the
debris, etc. from the water and give us much cleaner and higher quality water for all other
activities, both recreation, irrigation and for the environment itself.

MIKE SEXTON: As the winter floodwater recedes, it's leaving behind a tiny future forest of red gums
and new growth in old black box trees.

PETER CALE: As you can see, it's flowering at the moment. It's also got quite a bit of new growth,
which is all induced by the flooding.

MIKE SEXTON: But amid the new growth are the remnants of a grim past. These trees went the best
part of a decade without a drink. Without water flows to keep it moving, so much salt has
accumulated here that the ground water is twice as salty as the ocean. Peter Cale says this saline
cancer will spread unless regular environmental flows of water wash the salt downstream and out to

PETER CALE: If we don't start dealing with these issues, this whole system will eventually go the
same way and the consequences of that for South Australia will be devastating because we'll have a
very salty system.

MIKE SEXTON: One of the benchmarks set by Water Minister Tony Burke for the Murray-Darling Basin
plan is that the Murray mouth be open nine years out of 10. It's often argued, particularly by
upstream irrigators, that it's a waste to let water go out to sea. But in the saltier parts of the
system, they say it's simple hydrology: you can't clean out a dirty bath while the plug is in.

BEN HASLETT, SA RIVER COMMUNITIES: Do you know what?: I don't think environmentalists and
irrigators have a position that's really disparate. We're all after a healthy river, and we live on
the river, we know we need a healthy river for our families and farming families and food producers
to survive. So what we want's not that different.

MIKE SEXTON: South Australia's response to the Basin plan involved bringing together all river
users at Parliament House where the Premier Jay Weatherill sought a united front.

JAY WEATHERILL, SA PREMIER: We had environmentalists and irrigators here as well as local
government representatives, people that are worried about the local communities in South Australia
all really saying very much the same thing. We want a healthy river, we want it based on science.

MIKE SEXTON: The inclusion of local government is significant because tourism is a serious economic
source for river towns, as the river is a playground for those who like to boat and fish.

50-year-old blokes sitting on a river bank, drowning worms and sinking a couple of tinnies. This is
big business.

MIKE SEXTON: The connection between river flows and fishing is a tight line. When the drought
ended, the floods washed tonnes of stored up salt and leaf litter from wetlands into the main river
channel, creating over 1,000 kilometres of what's known as black water, where the water discolours
and there's little oxygen.

PETER TEAKLE, SA RECREATIONAL FISHERY COUNCIL: First time I've experienced it in my life, it was
nothing but a sticking, rotten cesspool. There was no bird life, there was nothing; it was just
dead, black water.

MIKE SEXTON: But as with the flood plains, the fresh water flows brought regeneration as the native
species responded.

PETER TEAKLE: The moment that the flow went through, up come all the yabbies, and I have never,
ever witnessed a run of yabbies like that in all any life.

MIKE SEXTON: A report by Ernst & Young concluded that recreational fishing is worth $1.3 billion
annually to the Basin, as each person spends an average of $262 per trip.

CHRISTOPHER COLLINS: Everybody benefits from it; not only the bloke that runs the tackle store, but
also the bloke that has the local corner store selling a milkshake or a pie, the person selling
petrol down at the servo, the caravan park - everybody benefits.

MIKE SEXTON: The recreational fishers say fishing on the rivers have never been better than over
the past 18 months, but acknowledged their members will go to where the fish are, meaning without
environmental flows to encourage fish stocks, the Basin communities will lose their business.

CHRISTOPHER COLLINS: So what we want them to think about, we want the Murray-Darling Basin plan to
address is issues involved with environmental flows that will benefit the fish.

MIKE SEXTON: Back on the Calperum floodplain, Peter Cale is hopeful the Basin plan will deliver
regular flows to avoid the disasters of the past drought. He cites the mighty eucalypts as an
example of nature's resilience, but warns even these trees have a limit to what they can endure.

PETER CALE: With both the black box and the red gum, the flooding actually induces the flowering
and then a massive production of seed and that prepares it for the next flood that'll come along.
And it can last for quite a number of years, but it's certainly not an indefinite supply that can
last forever.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Mike Sexton reporting.