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Water contingency planning in the Southern Murray-Darling Basin.



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MEDIA RELEASE The Hon Mark Vaile MP Deputy Prime Minister Minister for Transport and Regional Services Leader of the Nationals

12 January 2007 002MV/2007 Joint

Joint Media Statement

The Hon Mark Vaile MP Deputy Prime Minister Minister for Transport and Regional Services Leader of the Nationals

The Hon Steve Bracks MP Premier of Victoria The Hon Mike Rann MP Premier of South Australia

WATER CONTINGENCY PLANNING IN THE SOUTHERN MURRAY-DARLING BASIN

At the Summit on the Murray Darling Basin on 7 November 2006, the Prime Minister and the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia asked officials to examine contingency planning to secure urban water supplies during 2007-08.

Senior Officials found that inflows to the water storages in the southern Murray-Darling Basin are the lowest on record. So far during 2006, inflows to the Murray River are 60 per cent less than the previous minimum. If this was repeated in 2007, or if inflows were in the lowest 1 per cent of years on record, special measures would be needed to supply the critical needs of many towns, in particular Adelaide, which rely on the water systems of the southern Murray-Darling Basin.

The possibility of there being at least sufficient water for urban supplies is higher than the possibility that there will not be. However, contingency planning to face another very dry year needs to be put in place.

With proper preparations, the critical demands of urban areas and towns, and other households relying on the water supply systems of the southern Murray-Darling Basin, will be able to be met.

The Acting Prime Minister and Premiers have agreed to implement some measures immediately. The States and the Murray-Darling Basin Commission will adjust operations of their river systems to maximise flexibility in 2007-08 and minimise losses from the system. The measures include lower target end of season reserves in Lake Victoria, reduced minimum flow targets, early pumping to build reserves in Mt Lofty storages in South Australia, and disconnecting selected permanent wetlands that are artificially inundated. Disconnection of wetlands that would be problematic in terms of environmental and cultural heritage impacts will not be affected by this measure.

Contingency planning of 'at risk' towns will be finalised over coming months and resources

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will be available to put them into place should the need arise.

The Acting Prime Minister and Premiers have also agreed to prepare for additional measures that require further planning and to put them in place if necessary. If seasonal conditions improve then plans can be modified as the situation develops.

The Acting Prime Minister and Premiers have asked the Senior Officials' Group to oversee ongoing preparatory work and provide regular reports.

A key proposal being considered is the feasibility of building a temporary weir near Wellington on the Murray River. South Australia has already begun preliminary investigations in case such a weir is necessary. A decision will be made in February 2007 whether to go ahead. South Australia will pump as much extra water as it can over coming months from the Murray River to the Mount Lofty storages. This will provide some insurance should conditions remain dry.

As noted at the Summit on 7 November 2006, consideration will need to be given to the role of the Snowy in 2007-08, should dry conditions continue. Senior Officials will examine the role of the Snowy Hydro Ltd. This will need to be done carefully, balancing the provisions of water with the important role the Snowy plays in electricity supply in the national electricity market.

Restrictions on water use will continue to be monitored and adjusted as local conditions dictate over coming months. Generalised restrictions involving no outside watering may need to be introduced in or before June 2007 if current conditions continue.

The current situation underlines the importance of making progress under the National Water Initiative. A key principle underpinning the report is that once critical water supplies are secured, the normal water supply systems and markets in the Basin should be allowed to operate as normal.

Individual States are already consulting with stakeholders as the needs of each state dictate. Governments will provide detailed briefings for stakeholders and communities in February 2007.

Media Contacts

Richard Forbes ( Mr Vaile's Office ) 02 6277 7680 / 0418 273 475

Sarah Stock ( Mr Turnbull's Office ) 0404 848 186

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