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South Australia's Murray-Darling Wetlands: the deepening crisis: the Murray River and its wetlands are in ecological decline and some are on the brink of collapse, while our leaders drag their feet.

SAY THE WORD 'WETLANDS' in South Australia and the Coorong and Chowilla floodplain, key wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin, spring to mind. These iconic and internationally significant places, located at the mouth of the River Murray and near the border with New South Wales and Victoria, support a tremendous range of wildlife, including the Murray Cod and migratory birds.

However the Murray River and its wetlands are in ecological decline and some are on the brink of collapse. This alarming news has been revealed in the South Australia Murray-Darling Wetland Report Card prepared by ACF and launched in October by several well-known experts on these areas: Dr David Paton, freshwater ecologist; Henry Jones, commercial fisherman from the Coorong; Howard Jones, grape grower and Chair of the Murray Working Wetlands Group; and ACF's own Amy Hankinson, Healthy River campaigner.

Decades of over-extraction of water for irrigation has resulted in an artificially extended drought for our wetlands and the wildlife that depends on them, many of which haven't seen a flood for a decade and are literally dying for a drink. This artificial drought has recently been compounded by one of the worst natural droughts this part of Australia has ever been subjected to, and many prominent climate change scientists are wondering if it is 'just drought' or 'the new normal' as a consequence of global warming.

Immediate action is needed, to address the imbalance between water for irrigation and water for the environment and tackle the causes of climate change so that future generations can continue to enjoy and benefit from a healthy and productive River Murray and dependent wetlands.

It finally looked as if real action was about to take place in January this year when the Prime Minister announced the National Plan for Water Security, the Coalition's 10-year, $10 billion plan to improve irrigation efficiency and address over-extraction, primarily in the Murray-Darling Basin. When the Federal Budget rolled out last May, however, it became clear from the projected spending figures that only five per cent of the $10 billion is intended for spending on addressing over-extraction during the next three years!

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This means that despite all the talk about the dire state of the Murray-Darling and the need for urgent action, almost no water will be returned to the stressed Murray River in the next term of government--delivering at best 200 gigalitres--while the science is telling us the river system needs at least 1,500 gigalitres just to have a moderate chance of survival.

If our wetlands and wildlife are to survive, the new Federal Government that forms government after the federal election must fast-track the spending of the $3 billion already set aside to tackle over-extraction under the National Plan for Water Security.

Take action now!

ACF is calling on all political parties to fast-track expenditure under the National Plan for Water Security and spend at least half the $3 billion on addressing over-extraction within the next term of government to help restore our rivers and wetlands to a healthy condition and put our irrigation industries on a genuinely sustainable footing within a decade.

Take action!

You can add your voice to the call for healthy rivers and wetlands and a sustainable irrigation industry. Telephone, email or write to your new local Federal Member and let them know that you expect them to fast-track the National Plan within the next term of government to address over-extraction and restore our rivers and wetlands to health.

Dr Arlene Buchan is ACF's Healthy Rivers Campaigner.
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Author:Buchan, Arlene
Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:586
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