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Joint Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
18 September 2002
Federal Minister for Agriculture, Warren Truss, and Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today welcomed the Murray-Darling Basin Commission's decision to dredge the mouth of the River Murray.
"Urgent intervention is required to prevent the mouth of the Murray from closing and I am pleased the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) has today agreed to develop practical plans to keep the mouth of the Murray River open," Mr Truss said.
Mr Truss, who also chairs the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, said the decision had been taken for a range of environmental, social and economic reasons.
"As a result of low flows in the Murray, caused by the current drought and tidal movements shifting large volumes of sand, there is a high likelihood that the Murray mouth will close in coming months," Mr Truss said.
"There has been no release of water to the Murray mouth since November last year and with continuing dry conditions throughout the Basin there is little prospect of significant flushing flows for at least the next six months and possibly longer.
"If the mouth closed, the local tourism and fishing industries could be seriously affected."
The South Australian Government wrote to the MDBC in August asking for emergency dredging operations to be considered.
"It is important to keep the Murray mouth, and the entrance to the Coorong open, to prevent any habitat decline and to allow tidal flushing of the Coorong," Dr Kemp said.
"Dredging is necessary to protect the iconic Coorong wetlands, which are threatened by a lack of interchange of fresh and salt water.
"If we cannot get access to the Coorong for sea water before the summer, there is a very real danger that the biota of the main channel and the associated wetlands will suffer from rising temperatures and salinity.
"However, Dr Kemp emphasised that dredging was not the sole solution and that the maximum potential for keeping the mouth open could only be realised with increased environmental flows in the longer term."
In April the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council proposed consultation with river users over increased environmental flows, based on three models. The first engaged an increase of 350 gigalitres, the second 750 gigalitres, and the third 1500 gigalitres. The Council is scheduled to consider the results of the consultation in October 2003.
"Maintaining an open channel at the Murray mouth is a key aspect of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council's work to manage structures and resources of the River Murray to improve the River's environmental health," Dr Kemp said.
The Commission also agreed at its Sydney meeting yesterday to make available up to $2 million for the works.
The Murray Darling Basin is home to two million Australians. Another one million are reliant on its resources, including its water, and the Basin supports almost 40% of Australian agriculture.
Dr Kemp's office Catherine Job (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400
Mr Truss's office Tim Langmead (02) 6277 7520 or 0418 221 433