As inflows to the Murrayâ€“Darling system continue at record lows, conflict over water is intensifying. The management of both Menindee Lakes in Western NSW and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert in SA has been subject to severe criticism. Currently two of the Menindee Lakes contain nearly 600 GL of water (under current rules, this keeps them under NSW control). South Australia is calling for a release of water to prevent severe damage to the lower Murray, including the SA lakes and the Coorong. But lobbyists for the NSW irrigation sector, like Jennifer Marohasy, are arguing that the barrages preventing sea water inflow to the SA lakes, (themselves a response to flow reductions caused by the initial development of irrigation upstream), should be removed.
There’s little value in assessing these competing claims in isolation. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the current leisurely schedule for achieving a sustainable allocation of water rights is untenable. The Australian government needs to act to bring allocations into line with sustainable levels, and accelerate the repurchase of water rights from irrigators.