Coalition Senators think the Lower Lakes can be saved, despite the Rudd Government waving the white flag on preserving them as freshwater.
Coalition Senators have issued Additional Comments to the Government-controlled majority report of a Senate committee inquiry into water management of the Lower Lakes and Coorong, released today.
The most damning aspect of the Government-controlled majority report is the absence of any recommendation relating to the immediate threats to the Lower Lakes, which include possible irreversible acidification if sufficient levels are not maintained.
Instead, the Government throws up its hands with:
There is not enough water in the system.
Coalition Senators, however, believe the Federal and South Australian Governments must make a medium-term commitment to the Lakes while longer term options are explored.
That the Australian and South Australian Governments commit to delivering, at least until winter 2009, the water required to maintain the Lower Lakes above levels that would otherwise trigger the risk of acidification.
This is feasible given recent and forecast climatic conditions, including rainfall in the eastern Mount Lofty Ranges, meaning much smaller quantities of additional inflows are required to maintain the Lower Lakes for now.
The Murray-Darling Basin Commission now estimates this additional amount to be between 10 and 50 gigalitres (GL).
All options for sourcing these additional inflows must now be considered, including the possibility of slightly lowering weir pool levels.
We welcome evidence that the South Australian Government now considers it has until September next year to decide whether to proceed with its proposed “last resort” weir at Wellington.
However, this time must be used to explore all alternatives in a transparent, evidence-based manner to the construction of a weir, including long-term management models.
We have also called for all environmental assessments into the weir to be completed as soon as possible and publicly released.
Governments must not sit on their hands, having already decided on this “last resort” option, and simply wait until the time comes to have to invoke it.
The Rudd Government stands condemned for failing to express a belief that the Lower Lakes both can and should be maintained.
Coalition Senators are concerned about the number of stakeholders who felt they’d been inadequately consulted until now, and urge the Government to be open to all options canvassed by those giving evidence to the inquiry.
Other recommendations made by Coalition Senators include that:
- immediate action be taken to remove hyper saline water from the South Lagoon of the Coorong
- the South Australian Government urgently release a feasibility study undertaken into a Laffin Point temporary barrier proposal to provide direct relief to the boating, fishing and tourism industries around Goolwa
- the Rudd Government provide an immediate assistance package of at least $50 million for the Lower Lakes and Coorong communities
- the Rudd Government hasten on-farm and off-farm infrastructure spending delivering water savings and increased environmental flows, also enhancing food security and viability of regional communities
- state and territory governments unconditionally refer to the Australian Government management powers over the Murray-Darling Basin, as the only way to ensure effective long-term management
- Menindee Lakes be re-engineered where possible to reduce evaporative losses, currently 200 GL in order to provide just 20 GL of water for Broken Hill
- governments commit to self-sufficiency from the Murray for Adelaide as a key water policy objective
- construction of the North-South pipeline extracting at least 75 GL a year for Melbourne not proceed.