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Lower Lakes beyond help: Wong -

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ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Water Minister Penny Wong has sent up a white flag on the River Murray,
saying that there is nothing that the Federal Government can do now to save South Australia's Lower
Lakes, including the Coorong.

The South Australian Government has angered people who live on the lower reaches of the Murray
River by allocating funds for preliminary work on a weir that would cut them off, but would
safeguard Adelaide's water supply.

The State Government has not yet made a final decision on whether to build the weir and those
opposed to it say it will create an environmental disaster in the Lower Lakes and Coorong.

But today Penny Wong said the weir may be the only option left to ensure water supplies for
Adelaide and that there isn't enough water in the Murray River system anyway to save the Lower
Lakes.

In Adelaide, Nance Haxton reports.

NANCE HAXTON: It's a critical juncture for the River Murray, with the South Australian Government
now considering extreme measures to ensure critical human water supply needs in the state.

While it hasn't made a final decision on whether to build a weir at Wellington, if it does, the
weir will effectively cut off the Lower Lakes from the River Murray altogether.

The Federal Water Minister Penny Wong today admitted to ABC Adelaide that even if the Government
compulsorily bought all the available water in the river from upstream, it would not be enough to
save the Lower Lakes.

PENNY WONG: There is not enough water in the system to do everything we want. There is not enough
water in the system to bring down the sorts of quantities of water you'd need to fill the Lower
Lakes and to handle the evaporation in the Lakes and transmission loss - that is what you'd lose on
the way.

NANCE HAXTON: She says critical human needs now have to be the priority.

PENNY WONG: We've all known for some time that things are very difficult in the Murray-Darling
Basin, particularly in the River Murray and unfortunately there is simply not enough water to do
everything we want. So the priority does have to be critical human needs.

I understand the South Australian Government is looking at this issue; certainly the Murray-Darling
Basin Commission is looking at this issue. And a decision will have to be made in coming months
about what is the best way to proceed and we have to try and find what is the best way through in
what is a very difficult situation.

NANCE HAXTON: But lobby group Fair Water Use Australia says there is more the Federal Government
could do to save the Lower Lakes rather than wait for the weir to be built.

National coordinator Ian Douglas says the Federal Government should free up water stores further
upstream rather than concede the Lower Lakes.

IAN DOUGLAS: Well, her comments, if you read them, are that the water is all allocated. That
doesn't mean that it is not there. Sure there are allocations that have been made but those
allocations can be overridden and the water itself can be acquired.

It can't be acquired from any one source. There are several impoundments both in public and private
hands that can be accessed to contribute to the overall volume of 1,500 gigalitres that the CSIRO
tells us is required. Some of it, as I say, can come from public holdings like the Menindee Lakes
and some of it can come from private holdings.

We are very concerned by statements coming from the New South Wales Water Minister that the water
in the Menindee Lakes is not available and we have asked him and yet to hear back from him as to
why he feels that is so given the crisis in the Murray-Darling system. And to what urgent critical
use that water that he says is not available, he has plans to use it for.

NANCE HAXTON: So you are arguing there are other alternatives to a weir that should be considered?

IAN DOUGLAS: Well, time is running out. The issue is if the water is not getting down to the Lower
Murray and the Lakes within the next couple of months, it will be too late. And so if anything is
to happen and yes, we are all hoping and praying that the Government will take the action that is
clearly required, well then maybe the Wellington weir will not have to go ahead.

NANCE HAXTON: In the light of Penny Wong's comments, the Mayor of Coorong District Council Roger
Strother is appealing to the Federal Government not to sacrifice the Lower Lakes for the sake of
the rest of the river system.

He says they are vehemently opposed to building a weir, because it would cause irreversible damage
to the area.

ROGER STROTHER: We are concerned that the environment of the lakes are being sacrificed for
up-river interests.

NANCE HAXTON: How would they be sacrificed if this weir was built?

ROGER STROTHER: If the weir is built, that means they are going to, they want to let salt water
into the Lakes. Over time it will be saline that it will be equivalent to the Dead Sea.

NANCE HAXTON: What sort of ramifications would that have?

ROGER STROTHER: It means that all the animal and plant life that rely on fresh water will be gone.
All the people and the communities that live around the area won't have an environment to live next
to.

NANCE HAXTON: Could it be seen as a short-term measure? Could it possibly be re-mediated once the
critical human needs are looked after?

ROGER STROTHER: Once salt water is let in, it won't be, it will take decades to repair the damage -
if we can repair it. It will be almost irreversible.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Coorong Mayor Roger Strother ending that report from Nance Haxton.