Time to come clean on Lower Lakes

July 31, 2019

A clear statement acknowledging the historic estuarine condition of the Murray River’s Lower Lakes must be released by the South Australian Government and University of Adelaide.

This is the request from a letter signed by a vast range of community, local government, farming and business groups.

It especially refers to a 2009 report, commissioned by the SA Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, which claimed the Lower Lakes had traditionally been a fresh water system. This report was the basis on which significant parts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have been developed.

However, a recent peer-reviewed publication in the CSRIO journal ‘Pacific Conservation Biology’ says the Lower Lakes were historically an estuarine system with marine incursion.

In the letter, organised by the community-based Speak Up Campaign, it says: “We believe the 2009 report … has contributed to huge social, economic and environmental damage to parts of our nation.”
It says the Lower Lakes have also suffered environmental damage, because in their freshwater state they are hosting millions of the pest species European carp, and harming the critically endangered Murray hardhead, which thrives in brackish water.

“We believe a report which did not make it clear, despite evidence to the contrary, that the Lower Lakes were once part of an estuarine system has created so much unnecessary hurt, pain and damage, and we believe a clear statement acknowledging the traditional state of the Lower Lakes should be released,” the letter states.

It also asks the university and government:

  1. Were you aware of the misleading nature of the report which claimed the Lower Lakes did not have substantial marine incursions?
  2. What processes are in place to ensure reports do not form the basis of political advocacy, but are based on facts and information, not ideology and politics?
  3. What steps are being taken to ensure the facts and correct information are made public to ensure reports which could be considered misleading are rectified?

Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar said the importance of acknowledging the Lower Lakes were once estuarine cannot be overstated.

“The Basin Plan was built on this premise, and as a consequence huge volumes of fresh water are being poured down the Murray River at massive social and economic cost.

“Yet we now have a CSIRO peer-reviewed report which tells us this is not the case; a fact that has been obvious to many people for a long time.

“This should change the face of the Basin Plan and force South Australia to review its requests for such huge quantities of water, as demanded by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and others.

“We also want it acknowledged by federal Water Minister David Littleproud, who continues to be in denial. We are amazed that he remains happy to deliver a second rate plan.

“We are also disappointed that he is not being called out by our local member, the Environment Minister Sussan Ley, and the Wodonga based Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie.

“We understand the political sensitivities around publicly acknowledging the plan is a failure on social, economic and environmental fronts. But that is the reality, so let’s admit it and start taking positive steps to fix it,” Mrs Scoullar said.

The letter was signed by 17 organisations across three states, including South Australia. It included Edward River, Berrigan, Murrumbidgee and Murray River Councils, Deniliquin and Griffith Business Chambers, farming and community groups.

For further information or interviews:  Shelley Scoullar phone 0414 960 785 or email sjscoullar@gmail.com

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