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River Murray at one of its worst points in hi -

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River Murray at one of its worst points in history

The World Today - Friday, 27 March , 2009 12:32:00

Reporter: Nance Haxton

TANYA NOLAN: The mouth of the River Murray is now in such a parlous state that the South Australian
Premier says it's his main motivation for considering High Court action against the Victorian

Lake Alexandrina was yesterday almost a metre below sea level and parts of the Coorong that
surround the river mouth are up to six times saltier than sea water.

Scientists and Aboriginal guides in the region warn the Coorong may never return to the mix of
fresh and salt water that it has been for thousands of years.

And Premier Mike Rann says it's time for Victoria to treat the Murray River as Australia's river
and give up its four per cent cap on trading water licences.

Nance Haxton reports from the Murray Mouth.

(Sound of boat engine)

LAURIE AGIUS (over the sound of boat motor): Okay, so now we're ready to go so hold on guys...

NANCE HAXTON: Aboriginal cultural ranger Laurie Agius looks around the Murray mouth on one of his
daily boat patrols and doesn't like what he sees.

LAURIE AGIUS: With me, it's a Catch-22. It'll be sadder if we didn't have the dredge there and it
blocked up. I'm sad that it came to this point. Our people have been saying for a long time now
that we'd like a lot more input into the situation on the Murray Darling, on the Murray River, and
all that sort of stuff. So to come to this point yes, it makes us sad.

NANCE HAXTON: The mouth is the traditional border between two Ngarrindjeri clans but it's a shadow
of what it once was - reduced to only a few metres wide. And if the State Government wasn't
dredging that opening, it would close up completely.

LAURIE AGIUS: So we're in the Murray mouth at the moment.

NANCE HAXTON: We're in it now!

LAURIE AGIUS: We're in it now.

NANCE HAXTON: And it's not very wide really, is it?

LAURIE AGIUS: Not at the moment, no.

NANCE HAXTON: Twenty metres?

DAVID PATON: Maybe a bit more.

LAURIE AGIUS: Thirty metres maybe.

NANCE HAXTON: Yep. But for the mouth of Australia's largest river system, that's not very big.

LAURIE AGIUS: It's pretty poor. It's really pretty poor.

NANCE HAXTON: Scientist Dr David Paton says the mouth of the river is now at one of the worst
points in its history and no longer has an estuary at its mouth.

NANCE HAXTON: So this would normally be free-flowing, or where the sand is?

DAVID PATON: In the past, and normally this would be much deeper.

But the important thing to appreciate is before we started taking all the water out, even over the
last 100 years, flows would have been going through the mouth 99 per cent of the time. And this was
actually an estuary.

At present it's actually a marine system because there is no estuary; there's no fresh water mixing
with the marine water in this system, and effectively hasn't been for seven years.

NANCE HAXTON: Constitutional lawyers and water experts met with the South Australian Government
this week to discuss legal options available to get more water down the River Murray.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann says the state of the Lower Lakes and Murray mouth are his main
motivation for considering High Court action against the Victorian Government.

He says Victoria's cap on trading water licences is the only impediment left to getting more water
flowing down the river.

MIKE RANN: We need to remove this artificial restraint on trade so we can get water down the river

NANCE HAXTON: Premier Brumby though has said that lifting that cap would devastate irrigation in
communities in Victoria. How do you respond to that?

MIKE RANN: What we're simply asking for is fairness. If people want to sell, why can't it be sold?
The whole idea is the River Murray should be run on the basis of science. The river's health can be
determined by the end of the river and the end of the river is in a parlous and perilous state. So
we need water to come down.

What we're doing is in the interest of all the river, not just one part of it. I mean, you cannot
say on the one hand that it's, that you know, the life of the river is important to the nation, and
then still try to run it in a way where it's divided in four parts rather than as one whole river.

This is about an entire River Murray system and if the Victorians want to act like environmental
vandals, then I think they're going to have to face us in court.

NANCE HAXTON: Laurie Agius and Dr David Paton are supportive of any move that might bring more
fresh water back to the Murray mouth and the sensitive Coorong wetlands that surround it.

DAVID PATON: Therefore we should be trying to find ways in which we don't let the lakes deteriorate
beyond recovery, we don't let this Coorong system drop below recovery, but we find a way of
actually saying we want to keep it in a state where when we fix the flows - and we have to fix the
flows - over allocation cannot continue - we actually have a system we can bring back to where it
is; we can have it in a state that you can recover the components that were the thing which made
this really an asset that most of us have ignored, but it's truly remarkable.

LAURIE AGIUS: So we've got to change our mode of thinking in this country. Everyone's thinking
about the river as a money value. It's not a money value, it's an ecological thing, it's a natural
thing and we've got to treat it as such.

TANYA NOLAN: That's Aboriginal cultural leader Laurie Agius.