Too many cooks: why is it taking so long to get real action on the Murray issue?
The Coorong, the river's estuary, is dying from lack of fresh water and all the sand washing in from the sea. Fish, birds and trees (particularly redgums) along the river's banks are dying from a lack of water.
Fish can't migrate along the river because of all the locks and weirs, and most can't breed because the modest floods they need don't happen often enough.
Wetlands and floodplains haven't had a drink in years. Salt is rising in the land and the water. Pests like carp are taking over. What water is left is polluted from eroded soil, farm chemicals and sewage.
The scientists say that if you take more than one-third of a river's natural flows then it's unlikely to be healthy. We're taking three quarters of the Murray's water. Almost all of that is used for farming, less than five per cent is used to supply towns and cities, including Adelaide.
State and Commonwealth governments and the Murray Darling Basin Commission have been thinking about how to fix the Murray for years now. So have any number of committees, bureaucrats, catchment managers, irrigation groups, Aboriginal groups, environment groups, scientists, fishers. Everyone. Lots of thinking ...
So why isn't it fixed yet? Is it just too hard to turn back the clock?
It's not easy to get water back to the Murray. And we are talking about quite a lot of water.
* Water is worth a lot of money for irrigated agriculture, and irrigators are very uneasy about how they might be affected. They're worried about their legal rights to the water that they believe is theirs.
* Irrigation communities also want to understand more about the scientific evidence, the social impacts, and the economic impacts before they will even consider real change.
* Governments--the Commonwealth and the states--are unsure about how, whether, or if to proceed, and about how to pay for/share the costs of acquiring water that the Murray needs.
* If we're going to get best value for this environmental water, we're going to have to manage a number of rivers (the Murray, Murrumbidgee, Goulburn and lower Darling) in sync. That won't be easy.
The state and Commonwealth ministers will decide later this year on the first step backing the return of at least some water to the Murray.
What we need is serious commitment from our governments. We need ordinary people to tell them that restoring the Murray to health by returning water to the environment is the right thing to do; and that we need a shared commitment by governments to find the money needed to help irrigators to adjust by doing more with less water.
Habitat will be running a special feature on the Murray River in the next issue. We will be outlining some of the main problems facing the river and what we think it will take to turn these problems around.
Jill Merrin is ACF's Rivers Campaign Coordinator