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Murray-Darling commission outlines "worst cas -

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Murray-Darling commission outlines "wrost case scenario"

The World Today - Thursday, 10 April , 2008 12:31:00

Reporter: Nance Haxton

ASHLEY HALL: The head of the Murray Darling Basin Commission today outlined the drastic action the
Commission is prepared to take which could end the livelihoods of many irrigators.

Wendy Craik says the Commission is considering flooding the lower lakes of the Murray with
saltwater if record low inflows continue.

Ms Craik says it would be a worst case scenario for a region facing increasing problems with acid
sulphate soils.

She presented the case today to the South Australian Parliament's Natural Resources Committee.

Ms Craik admits that covering the lakes with saltwater would mean the end of the line for
irrigators, but says it is one of many scenarios that the Commission must consider.

Nance Haxton spoke with Wendy Craik after her presentation in Adelaide.

WENDY CRAIK: The Murray Darling Basin Commission has been asked by the Ministerial Council to look
at what the options might be for the lower lakes in the longer term. Taking into account the
historical flow patterns and also taking into account climate change and what that might do in
terms of water levels and flows.

And so what the Commission is going to do is look at all the options and provide a report to the
Ministerial Council later this year and look at the social, economic and environmental costs of
each of those options so I guess we will have a better answer after the Ministerial Council has
made some kind of decision.

NANCE HAXTON: What would that mean for the irrigators in the lower lakes if the lakes had to be
flooded with saltwater to stop them acidifying?

WENDY CRAIK: Well, clearly, irrigators on the lower lakes wouldn't be able to feed their stock and
water their crops with what you might regard as seawater but let's wait until we see what is
actually going to happen rather than predict the worst, let's wait and see.

NANCE HAXTON: So that would be worst case scenario as far as you're concerned?

WENDY CRAIK: Well, I'm not aware of any, well it is the least worst case scenario because I suspect
the worst case might be acid sulphate soils but clearly it is not an option that you'd, either of
those options is not something that you would want to, want to have to live with and clearly we
will be looking at what other options might be available.

The average flows for the last decade in the Victorian Murray are similar to the flows that CSIRO
suggested might occur under an extreme climate change in about 2055, 2060 so that what we've been
seeing for the last decade is what CSIRO might have suggested as an extreme climate change some
distance into the future which just illustrates, I think, the severity of the situation we've found
ourselves in, in the last couple of years.

NANCE HAXTON: And that obviously has ramifications for South Australia as well?

WENDY CRAIK: Oh look. It clearly, when you get reductions in flow, they don't apply to the
Victorian part of the Murray. They also apply to the New South Wales part of the Murray and clearly
the South Australian part of the Murray. So I think, um, clearly last year we had about a thousand
gigalitres of inflow into the system - less than 60 per cent of the previous minimum.

This year, so far, we've had just over 2000. You know, much lower than the normal historical
long-term average of 11,000 and that's the sort of situation we are having to grapple with.

If the climate change scenarios that CSIRO have projected come to fruition , then clearly there
will be a lesser amount of water coupled with things like more extreme events and the other sorts
of consequences of climate change.

And I guess one of the things that we have been working on and the states have been working on is,
how we might deal with those but the first issue is really to try to understand the range of the
possibilities that are available and governments clearly are starting to move to address these with
things like the National Water Security Plan, various strategies in each of the states so work in
underway but it is a difficult issue.

People have property rights and dealing with those issues and people's livelihoods is not a simple
thing.

ASHLEY HALL: The chief executive of the Murray Darling Basin Commission, Wendy Craik with Nance
Haxton.