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Money alone won't save the Murray

Federal legislation that sets aside $1.7 billion for irrigation infrastructure in the Murray-Darling Basin must be changed to guarantee at least 450 gigalitres of environmental water, the Australian Conservation Foundation told a Senate committee hearing in Adelaide today.

On 26 October the Prime Minister said a new deal would result in “450 gigalitres of water being preserved for South Australia, and a trust fund, a special fund being set up of $1.7 billion to ensure that that 450 gigalitres can be made available”.

ACF said the legislation to make the deal possible must guarantee the extra water.

“The Prime Minister, the Water Minister and the South Australian Premier proudly declared a fortnight ago that they had struck a deal to restore the Murray Darling to health,” ACF Healthy Rivers Campaigner Jonathan La Nauze said at the hearing today.

“Within a matter of days, legislation to create the promised trust fund was introduced to the House of Representatives. But the promised water began to evaporate, with the legislation providing no guarantee of the 450 gigalitres.

“Modelling shows the extra 450 gigalitres, which would bring total water recovery to 3200 gigalitres, could literally mean the difference between life and death in the Coorong.

 “It is essential this legislation is changed so it guarantees at least 450 gigalitres, sets clear milestones for water recovery and does not tie the Federal Government to recovering water through expensive irrigation projects.

“Even the National Irrigators’ Council has publicly raised concerns about how expensive these projects can get.  If the government concentrated on buying back water from willing sellers, it could guarantee at least 3200 gigalitres of water for the Murray without the additional funding,” he said.

A government survey of farmers, who have sold water to the government found about 60 per cent of sellers sold part of their entitlement and around half of those said the water sale had not affected farm production in a significant way.  The survey also found the majority of proceeds from water sales were spent locally.