5 August 2003

Sydney Morning Herald | Water's no worry in a nation drinking itself dry:
Australia's rivers are in dire shape and we need to know why, writes Ian Cordery.

Water crisis? What water crisis? This is the reaction of most Australians when the desperate situation in Australia, and particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin, is mentioned.

In our coastal cities, where 80 per cent of Australians reside, every time we turn the tap we have as much high-quality water as we care to use and it is supplied so cheaply as to be virtually free. We pay about one-tenth of a cent a litre. So where is the crisis?

Inland the reality is very different. Over a very large proportion of our continent, competition for the finite (and unlikely ever to increase) water resource grows by the day. At the same time the salt content of the water is rising. Water drawn from the lower reaches of the Murray River often has a distinctly salty taste. In a few years Adelaide's water supply, about 50 per cent of which is drawn from the Murray, will be undrinkable.

There is sporadic interest in the approaching water crisis among our political leaders and the media. Some funds have been allocated to salinity control programs, but the amounts are ludicrously small. We live on the driest inhabited land mass on Earth and need to recognise that the future wellbeing of our nation depends on wise management and care of our very limited water resources. However, because most of us live where excellent quality water is supplied at very low cost, we are unaware of the reality of the problem, and our 'leaders', being reactionary, see no need to take initiatives on areas of low public concern.

The blogosphere is doing a little better than trad media in reporting this issue. At least no-one's called for any river diversions lately and the Paroo basin has been preserved.

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