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600km algae outbreak on Murray -

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600km algae outbreak on Murray

The World Today - Friday, 27 March , 2009 12:37:00

Reporter: Simon Lauder

TANYA NOLAN: In another sign of how sick the Murray River is, an outbreak of blue-green algae has
stretched across hundreds of kilometres of the waterway.

Outbreaks usually happen in the backwaters of the system, but this one is in the main channel of
the river and extends for 600 kilometres.

Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER: Just east of Albury-Wodonga lies Lake Hume. When it's full it holds six times as much
water as Sydney Harbour. But now it's less than five per cent full, which means the nutrients on
the bottom are close enough to the surface to create blue-green algae.

DAVID HARRIS: It is potentially toxic in that it can cause skin and eye irritations on contact and
we certainly don't recommend it for washing or for cooking or for drinking.

SIMON LAUDER: The deputy director general of the New South Wales Department of Water, David Harris,
says the algae has been detected from Lake Hume to Barham.

DAVID HARRIS: There are areas where the bloom is pretty thick.

SIMON LAUDER: And is it true it stretches as far as 600 kilometres along the river?

DAVID HARRIS: Well, we've got high levels at Barham, which is probably about that distance
downstream from Hume dam. But as I said, they're not continuous, it's not like it's a continuous
stretch of the river as it was in the Darling, you know, 15 years ago.

SIMON LAUDER: Mr Harris says it's one of the most severe outbreaks the middle Murray has ever seen.
He says there's not enough water in reserve to flush the outbreak away so it will only die off when
water temperatures drop.

DAVID HARRIS: We normally get the incidence of algae and it's particularly in the backwaters in the
Murray system and most systems throughout New South Wales and Victoria, but it's not where it
causes such consequences as this can potentially do.

You know, we've had an extended dry period. We don't have any water available to provide a flushing
flow, so we don't really have any operating capacity to disperse the flows.

SIMON LAUDER: The bloom has prompted the river's Algal Coordinating Committee to issue a
'red-alert', its strongest warning to people to stay away from the water.

It may be unusual for some areas but on Lake Hume where the outbreak started, locals describe
blue-green algae as a fact of life.

KEVIN DOWNEY: Look, I think it's an individual choice. If they want to use the lake, the warnings
are there.

SIMON LAUDER: Kevin Downey is the part owner of the Lake Hume Tourist Park.

KEVIN DOWNEY: One made the comment that prior to coming to Lake Hume he used to ski at Hazelwood,
where the algae was that thick you could walk across it, so he wasn't worried about the bit that
was up here.

SIMON LAUDER: Further downriver the town of Corowa is also prepared for the outbreak.

The Mayor of the Corowa Shire, Gary Poidevin.

GARY POIDEVIN: Our filtration system here in our town has got a charcoal filter system that we've
installed to try and take out all the blue-green algae from it.

SIMON LAUDER: And it works well? There's no blue-green algae in the drinking water?

GARY POIDEVIN: No, no, there's no blue-green algae in the drinking water.

SIMON LAUDER: Dr Darren Baldwin from the Murray Darling Freshwater Research Centre says the reach
of this algal bloom is the latest sign that the Murray's water levels are critically low.

DARREN BALDWIN: Traditionally in Lake Hume, which is a very water storage at the top of the Murray,
there have only been three blooms recorded, blue-green algal blooms recorded prior to 2000 and
they, the last two coincided with periods of drought.

This extended period of drought that we've had in south-east Australia since about 2000, we've had
repeated blooms in both the lake and obviously now downstream.

SIMON LAUDER: Dr Baldwin says river communities west of Lake Hume may have to get used to the water
being off limits.

DARREN BALDWIN: While the conditions are such that we haven't got water to keep in Lake Hume, then
yeah, the long term prospects for continued algal bloom is becoming, potentially becoming an annual
issue.

SIMON LAUDER: The water retailer North East Water has assured customers along the river that its
treatment systems will remove the algae from drinking water.

TANYA NOLAN: Simon Lauder reporting.