Unite to save river

The statements from those gathered on the shores of Lake Alexandrina yesterday about the draft plan to better protect the health of Australia’s largest irrigated food production area are welcome indeed.
None of those standing next to the brimming expanse of water think the plan is anywhere near perfect.
But they acknowledge that a plan for the river system is essential and an imperfect plan is a start and a lot better than no plan at all.
The Murray Darling Basin Authority’s proposal has pleased none of the major stakeholders.
With its recommendation to return 2750 gigalitres to the system, irrigators fear a loss of water entitlements and an erosion of their businesses and communities.
Meanwhile, the target falls far short of the 4000 gigalitres recommended by scientists and environmentalists for the system’s long-term health.
They believe the amount set aside for the river’s ecosystem is not enough to safeguard it in the event of a drought.
Developing a plan that pleases all stakeholders is impossible.
This is an issue that has been fought over for decades – State against State, farming region against region, and environmentalists against almost everyone else.
But there is a strong push for the decision makers to “behave like adults”.
To put aside emotion and concentrate on the main game.
Such claims are encouraging but the reality is that the oversupply of water from the basin is a political problem and, as politicians have proven time and time again, politics always wins in the end.
Already new SA Premier Jay Weatherill is talking about a legal challenge to achieve the best outcome for this State.
Such a move is admirable and what most of his constituents expect, but it’s the first step back to the bad old days and the bad old ways of pitting State against State in the battle for a fairer system.
That’s the first chink in the armor.
The “us and them” mentality has been the major factor in why the management of the resource has deteriorated to the current level. The river has rarely been viewed by politicians as a “whole” and seems to magically appear and disappear at State borders.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for them to forget they are adults and start behaving like politicians.
The politician holding the seat belonging to an irrigation community will be fighting for his community, as well as his career, when the emotion starts to boil over.
It will take much effort for politicians to set such parochialism aside, but it must be done if we are to safeguard the future of one of this nation’s treasured environmental and economic assets.

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