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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

22 October 1999

MURRAY-DARLING BASIN DRYLAND SALINITY REPORT RELEASED


Sharman Stone MP, Federal Member for Murray and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Environment and Heritage today said the release of the Murray-Darling Basin Salinity Audit provided a vital snapshot of the scale of dryland salinity problems for governments and communities throughout the Basin.

Key findings released in the report, prepared by the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council, predict that the annual spread of salt in the landscape will double over the next 100 years, and that most major rivers and tributaries in the Basin will exceed the desirable threshold for drinking and irrigation water sometime in the next 20-100 years.

The Report acknowledges that while salinity does occur naturally, its spread has been exacerbated by changing land use patterns, including land clearing, over the past 200 years.

"This ground breaking report will give communities throughout the Murray Darling Basin a clearer understanding of the severity, scale and impacts of salinity on agricultural production, regional infrastructure and the environment. This type of information is vital if we are to plan effectively for the future," Sharman Stone said.

As well as a Basin-wide analysis, the Report also examined individual river valleys, providing comprehensive localised information on the scale of salinisation and waterlogging.

The report estimated that by 1996 300,000 hectares of land within the Murray Darling Basin were salt affected, with the potential to rise as high as 9 million hectares.

In Victoria, forecasts suggest as much as 840,000 hectares is likely to be salt affected, a further 930, 000 hectares 'waterlogged', and over one million hectares at risk from shallow water tables by the year 2050.

"In Victoria in the 1980s communities substantially began to address irrigation related salinity. Today we have learned how to manage the high water tables. Now we must focus on the dry-land problems," Sharman stone said.

The cost in lost agricultural production, damage to regional infrastructure (such as roads) and urban development, and the environment is estimated at between $46 million and $250 million per year nationally. Loss of regional biodiversity and the severe degradation of several wetlands of national and international significance has also been identified.

"This is serious news for a region considered the 'foodbowl' of Australia. It is a cost our farmers and rural communities simply can't afford," Sharman Stone said.

"We need to learn from our successes in Victoria and adapt catchment based stakeholder driven management plans."

The Report acknowledges that government and the community have recognised the threat proposed by salinity degradation and "invested heavily in salinity management".

"Through Integrated Catchment Management, communities across the basin need to tackle the problems of dryland salinity. The Federal Government is committed to salinity management, providing funding for research, planning and on-ground works through the $1.5 billion Natural Heritage Trust and the National Dryland Salinity program."

"The Electorate of Murray has just received $10 million from the Natural Heritage Trust to continue the work of managing salinity and related agricultural and environmental problems," Sharman stone said.

The Murray Darling Basin Commission is currently preparing a draft Salinity Management Strategy for the Ministerial Council's consideration by June 2000.

Copies of the MDB Salinity Audit Report are available from the Commission's web site at http//www.mdbc.gov.au or by writing to the Murray Darling Basin Commission GPO Box 409 Canberra ACT 2601.

For further information please contact:
Nicole Johnston, Assistant Adviser, 02 6277 2016 or 0419 219 415

Commonwealth of Australia