Time to change thinking on the Murray River
Later this year the South Australian Government is likely to announce the introduction of a weir at Wellington.
This is effectively a dam across Australia’s greatest river before it flows into the Lower Lakes in South Australia.
It would allow the Government to pump sea water into the Lower Lakes, a system that has been a fresh water environment for thousands of years – this is a decision that will be irreversible.
The cause of this crisis is undoubtedly poor management of the Murray Darling Basin and the length of the drought reducing inflows into the system to record lows.
The system is a naturally replenishing resource that must be managed to service Australia’s food production but also to keep the resource healthy. The CSIRO has estimated that inflows to the system will be reduced by up to 50% under their modeling. Given the severity of the shortage, maybe it is time for us to think outside the square.
So what is the answer? Clearly the plan initially announced by Malcolm Turnbull and John Howard in January 2007 is a large part of getting the system under control. However with predictions such as produced by CSIRO for reduced inflows, will this plan be enough? If the CSIRO is right, we may need to have more water to continue to grow our own food and manage our environment properly in the Basin.
I know many of my friends and colleagues will question my sanity for raising this but I think it is time for our country to seriously consider bringing water from where it is to where it isn’t.
I am not advocating for a particular plan as there are many, however I think it is high time that an expert commission was formed to consider all the options.
Maybe it is a pipe dream maybe it is not. The arguments for both sides of this are passionate and compelling.
The for camp argues that there is so much ‘wasted’ water to the north that it is logical to move it to the south.
It is indisputable fact that the Murray Darling Basin needs additional water. The Basin produces 40% of our food. It is our nation’s food bowl. We already face extreme pressure in high quality agricultural areas of growing populations. In my own electorate in the Adelaide Hills, development is increasingly encroaching on the very land that sustains our country.
Many farmers of course like it, because they get enormous money for their property and developers are only too willing to find Greenfield sites.
The no camp is equally adamant and passionate about the concept. They are argue from various angles including that this would cost far too much money to be deliverable, it would need far too much power to run, it would increase carbon emissions and it is cheaper and more efficient to introduce desalination plants and capture and recycle systems to augment the water supply of Adelaide.
Some environmentalists argue that it would damage the environment from which the water was taken, engineering more problems. Believe it or not, water is not necessarily the same.
I have until now been firmly placed in the no camp but recently I have started to wonder whether it is more dangerous not to ask the question at all. This is maybe due to witnessing the daily suffering of the communities along the Lower Lakes who helplessly demand action.
It might be watching the water in the Lakes slowly recede to the point of no return or maybe it is an idea whose time has come. If the predictions from the CSIRO are correct and inflows to the basin are reduced by more than half, we are going to have to look outside the square.
So at the risk of sounding like Kevin Rudd, I am calling for a pipeline commission to seriously look at this. Cost, location, environmental issues and practicality should all be considered.
Given the amounts of money spent by the Rudd Government at the moment, surely this infrastructure project is worthy of at least consideration. We hear much about building another ‘snowy mountain scheme’ maybe this will be it. There is little doubt that this would cost not only government but also the end user – significantly. Maybe it is a cost worth paying.
It may be improbable but I defy anyone to visit the lower reaches of our great Murray Darling Basin and those brave Australians who live their and tell them that it is not worth considering.
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