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Senate inquiry confirms the scale of the challenge for lower lakes, Coorong and the Murray-Darling Basin.



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PW 218/08 Friday 10 October, 2008

SENATE INQUIRY CONFIRMS THE SCALE OF THE CHALLENGE FOR LOWER LAKES, COORONG AND THE MURRAY-DARLING BASIN

Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, today welcomed the tabling of the Senate Inquiry’s report into the Lower Lakes and Coorong.

Senator Wong said the inquiry had provided an opportunity to air a range of views and had shown how difficult the situation is across the Murray-Darling Basin, including around the Murray River’s mouth.

“For too long, we have overdrawn the scarce water supplies of the Murray-Darling Basin, and with years of drought and the onset of climate change, the Basin’s rivers and wetlands are in serious trouble,” Senator Wong said.

“The Senate Inquiry heard that many Basin communities are under enormous pressure - and nowhere more so than in the Lower Lakes and Coorong.

“Low rainfall and inflows over many years have left the Lower Lakes on the brink of acidification. However, the evidence presented to the inquiry indicated there is very little fresh water available right now for either the Lower Lakes or for the numerous other icon sites throughout the Basin.

“Even if some fresh water were immediately available from the northern Basin, around 70 to 80 per cent of it would be lost in transmission before it could reach the Lakes.

“The evidence presented to the Senate Inquiry makes it clear that extended drought, plus the emergence of climate change, means that there is not enough water in the Basin to do everything that we want.

“This is why the Rudd Government has committed $200 million to the South Australian Government for an enduring solution to the problems facing the Lower Lakes and Coorong, with $10 million immediately available to accelerate projects for the Lower Lakes and Coorong.

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“In addition, the Rudd Government has committed $120 million for piping works to connect towns, communities and irrigators currently relying on the Lower Lakes to a higher point on the Murray.”

Senator Wong said the Rudd Government’s $12.9 billion Water for the Future plan was focused on securing Australia’s long term water supplies, with a strong focus on improving the health of the Murray-Darling Basin.

“For the first time, the Australian Government is purchasing water entitlements, so that water can be returned to the rivers. Having already completed our first tender earlier this year, we are now undertaking tenders in the Northern Basin and the Southern Basin.

“$3.1 billion will be invested in purchasing water entitlements to improve river health.

“In addition, the Rudd Government is investing $5.8 billion in modernising irrigation infrastructure, to help irrigators use available water more efficiently.

“And we are investing in new water supplies for cities and towns such as Adelaide, which will reduce reliance on rainfall and help to take some pressure off the River Murray.

Senator Wong noted the effect of recent rains on the Lower Lakes:

“The likelihood of reaching the acidification management threshold in the Lower Lakes has now receded until well into next year, which is a welcome development. However, this won’t avoid the need for an enduring solution to the problems facing the Lakes and the Coorong.”

Senator Wong also acknowledged the time and effort given by many members of the community to this inquiry.

“If there is one message from this report it is that the reality facing us in the Lower Lakes and across the Basin is grave.

“Now that these facts are on the table, we all have a responsibility to act in the long-term interests of the Basin and all the communities who rely on it.”