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Murray-Darling situation, 'a shocker' -

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EMMA ALBERICI: The drought across the Murray-Darling Basin is getting worse.

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission has just held an update revealing that last month's inflows
were the lowest on record and the total inflows for autumn were only just above the record lows
recorded last year.

The outlook for the rest of the year is grim, with the National Climate Centre describing it as a
shocker.

The basin's chief executive warns that people who rely on water from the channel and smaller
tributaries off the Murray system might have to have their water trucked into them.

From Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: Every couple of months, the National Climate Centre and Murray-Darling Basin Commission
hold a briefing on the outlook for the entire basin.

Neil Plummer is the acting head of the National Climate Centre. He says in word, it's a shocker.

NEIL PLUMMER: Our second driest February to June period on record for Victoria and those records
extend back to 1900. So certainly the autumn period through to early winter, certainly an absolute
shocker in terms of climate conditions for the basin.

SABRA LANE: Wendy Craik is the Murray-Darling Basin Commission's chief executive.

WENDY CRAIK: Well the current status of the basin, particularly the southern part of the basin that
we have operational involvement with, is not at all good. Inflows in June were back to record lows
after nearly record low inflows in autumn. Our storages are very low although we do have some
carryover for irrigators in them this year.

The catchments are very dry. And the outlook unfortunately for rain is drier than average. So, put
all that together and you don't have a very encouraging outlook.

SABRA LANE: I think the weather bureau said it was a shocker.

WENDY CRAIK: I think that's pretty right actually. There's not a lot of hope in that outlook in
terms of increased inflows and water availability for the environment, for irrigators and for
communities.

SABRA LANE: If it was a patient, if the river system was a patient, how would you describe its
condition?

WENDY CRAIK: I would describe its condition as critical - not beyond hope but still in pretty bad
shape.

SABRA LANE: And the Lower Lakes - you were saying there's a 50 per cent chance by April next year
that we reach a point where the soils become acid-like and it's really beyond repair, isn't it?

WENDY CRAIK: No what we're saying is that with the inflows, taking the inflows that we've had for
the last six years, on the probability of those inflows for the last six years and with no remedial
action, yes, there is a 50 per cent chance of the Lower Lakes being at a critical level by April
next year.

Now clearly we have a short-term contingency measure in place right now, pumping from Lake
Alexandrina to Lake Albert, and we are in the processing of developing medium and longer term
options for governments to look at.

SABRA LANE: Are we moving fast enough to save it or is it too late?

WENDY CRAIK: We're moving just as fast as we can because trying to develop some of these options is
not, it's not as easy as it might seem, and it's not a simple proposition. And trying to work out
where, what options you have, what you can do with infrastructure, what you can do with water
availability, what the likely climate change scenarios are both in terms of water availability and
sea water changes - all those things are not straightforward and simple. And so we are moving as
fast as we can but clearly it would be nice if we'd been prescient enough to do this a decade ago.

SABRA LANE: The bureau was also saying, even if we did get average rainfall, that wouldn't mean
average inflows. Could you explain why?

WENDY CRAIK: That's right because certainly recent work on the South Eastern Australian Climate
Initiative has shown that we've had increasing temperatures and increasing temperatures mean
increasing evaporation and reduced inflows.

Work from the bureau has shown that for every one degree Centigrade rise in temperature, we get a
15 per cent reduction in the inflows.

SABRA LANE: Now water for human consumption is being guaranteed for those who draw their water from
the Murray system, but what about for those who have channels and take their water from the Ana
Branches from the Murray?

WENDY CRAIK: The water, if there is no water in those channels and Ana Branches then the states are
taking responsibility for making sure that there's water availability for towns and for critical
human consumption. And we're reasonably sure we can deliver water for critical human consumption
throughout the year.

SABRA LANE: But that means they'll probably have to truck it in, rather than take it out of the
river.

WENDY CRAIK: Well of some of them have been using ground water sources and/or trucking it in but
the states have for the last two years in some cases, you know, this has been underway. And so the
states have pretty good systems in place to ensure that that can be done.

SABRA LANE: And Wendy Craik, also you showed a snapshot when you talked about the Murray today. You
showed a picture of some gums near loch six I think it was, and they looked distressed and dead.
What is the environmental outlook for all the River Red Gums particularly along the Murray?

WENDY CRAIK: The outlook for the River Red Gums along the Murray and of course other ecosystems
along the Murray is not good. But in a general sense, if we don't get a lot of water, given some of
those flood plains haven't been flooded since 1993, then we're going to lose some of those Red Gum
and Black Box ecosystems, without a doubt.

EMMA ALBERICI: The Murray-Darling Basin Commission's Wendy Craik speaking there with Sabra Lane.