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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP



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Joint Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Warren Truss
Australian Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation
Senator Ian Macdonald

26 March 2004

Living Murray initiative accelerating

Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council Chairman, Warren Truss, and Environment Minister Dr David Kemp, welcomed the outcomes of today's meeting that reinforced the commitment of all Basin jurisdictions to the continued implementation of the $500 million Living Murray Initiative.

"Council heard today that there has already been significant action taken under the Living Murray Initiative, with obvious results," Mr Truss said.

"In particular, the red gum watering trials that commenced a few weeks ago on the Chowilla Floodplain have already improved the landscape quite remarkably."

The project is being funded from the separate $150 million Capital works commitment. Similar projects are being designed for:

"Dredging of the Murray Mouth is continuing ahead of schedule. This has kept the Murray Mouth open during the recent summer, allowing for tidal flows to refresh the Coorong.

"A new $1.2 million water recovery initiative will develop infrastructure projects to support the first step of the Living Murray Initiative, focussing on achieving water savings through infrastructure improvements. This initiative will enable jurisdictions to identify specific projects that can be implemented cost effectively and quickly without detrimental impacts on irrigators or town users."

Another positive outcome of the meeting was a reaffirmation of the commitment by all States to progress the Living Murray Initiative in conjunction with the National Water Initiative.

"Implementation of the Living Murray Initiative is dependent on an agreement by State, Territory and the Commonwealth Governments on the National Water Initiative, but by developing Living Murray projects now we can act quickly when the National Water Initiative is signed off - expected to be mid-year."

Council also agreed that jurisdictions would, as a matter of priority, identify by 31 May approaches and priorities for early initiation of projects consistent with the National Water Initiative. Other notable outcomes of the meeting included:

Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council Communiqué

26 March 2004

The Murray-Darling Ministerial Council today decided on a clear path forward for the Living Murray initiative for the rest of 2004.

The $150 million Living Murray implementation program is already delivering results. Arrangements for watering stressed River Redgums on the Chowilla floodplain and operation of the new fish passages on the River Murray are well underway. The dredging program at the Murray Mouth has provided sufficient tidal surge to replenish the water at the Coorong.

These are early steps to achieving ecological objectives at the six significant ecological assets, as part of the First Step for The Living Murray decided last November. These objectives include restoration of healthy floodplain forests and wetlands, expanding the geographic range of native fish and improving the habitat for migratory water birds.

The Council reinforced the importance of providing communities with information on the First Step and providing opportunities for their involvement and agreed to develop a Community Consultation and Communication Strategy for this purpose.

The Council agreed, as a matter of priority and to inform the COAG National Water Initiative and the development of the Intergovernmental Agreement, that the States and ACT, working with the Commonwealth, agree to identify by 31 May 2004, approaches and priorities to facilitate the expeditious implementation of the Living Murray Initiative, including an approach enabling the early initiation of projects creditable under the National Water Initiative.

To advance the First Step of The Living Murray, the Council requested the Commission to:

Meanwhile, to ensure the effective coordination of all the elements of the First Step, a Living Murray work plan for the rest of 2004 will be finalised by the Commission by 1 May 2004.

Council also considered the potential impact of changes to land use and water availability on the flow and quality in Murray-Darling Rivers in future years. The changes include the more immediate impacts of bushfires in 2003 the south east, over-allocation of groundwater, the longer term impacts of climate change, growth in farm dams, expansion of plantation forestry and re-vegetation, and reduced return flows from increased water use efficiency in irrigation.

The Council has commissioned work to improve the understanding of each of these trends and impacts, to commence collaborative research with the Victorian Department of Sustainability and the Environment on managing bushfire impacts, and initiate reporting on trends and impacts in groundwater use.

The Council approved a Commission's budget for 2004-05 of $103.9 million. The Commission will concentrate its efforts in the next few years on implementing The Living Murray First Step, maintaining momentum with salt interception and salinity management, and meet core commitments in River Murray operations and the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

The Council requested the Commission to commence preparing a new three-year strategic plan to refine Commission priorities for knowledge generation and focus expenditure on agreed Basin wide issues. The strategy should enable the Commission to most efficiently deliver on the goals of the Murray-Darling Basin Initiative.

The Council approved the construction of the Loxton Salt Interception Scheme in South Australia to achieve a total estimated benefit of 16.5 EC units at Morgan under the Basin Salinity Management Strategy, at a total estimated construction cost of $21.4m. The Loxton Scheme combined with the recently approved Bookpurnong Salt Interception Scheme will be a major contribution to the salinity strategy's target of 61 EC improvement in river salinity by 2007.

The Council was advised on the water resource prospects for 2004-05 and noted that despite recent rains in the northern parts of the Basin the drought is far from over in the Murray and Lower Darling Rivers.

The Council appointed Commissioner Robert Freeman of South Australia as Deputy President of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

The Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, the Hon Warren Truss MP, expressed the gratitude and respect of all Ministers present and past to Don Blackmore AM for his 20 years of service to the Commission, the last 14 years as Chief Executive. The Council meeting was Don's last official function before retiring from the Commission.

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