Media Releases | 17th Nov, 2004

Dying Murray gums a national emergency

Wednesday, 17 November 2004

The Murray River’s dying River Red Gums are a national emergency that require State Governments to urgently use their powers to provide water for the environment, said Victoria’s peak green group.

“A leaked three-government draft report that shows a shockingly rapid rise in the number of sick and dying River Red Gums on the Murray is an urgent call to action. This is a national emergency of historic proportions – the country’s most important river is on its last legs,” said Dr Paul Sinclair, Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers Campaign Director.

“There should be no hesitation. State and Commonwealth Governments must immediately use their powers to recover water for the environment. We cannot afford to lose any time.”

Dr Sinclair said under the Living Murray plan governments committed to giving 500 billion litres by 2006.

“This report shows with no uncertainty how two years is too long to wait. In that time the number of dead or dying red gums has risen by a quarter to 75%. We must take action now.

“Governments have acted swiftly to protect the interests of irrigators in the past, now it is the environment’s turn. They have no choice but to act in the best interests of the community.”

More than 80% of the river’s water is extracted – almost all of which goes into irrigation, he said.

“The Murray River survived the last of the dinosaurs but right now it is not surviving human interference. Make no mistake, the death of the Murray will affect entire human, animal and plant systems.

“It is in the interests of all stakeholders – from farmers to city dwellers – to ensure the Murray survives. If we don’t restore it now, we will merely transfer greater social and economic costs and risks onto future generations.

“It has been quick, easy and cheap to damage the Murray. It will be hard, slow and expensive to return it to health. But it is not too late to stop the hemorrhaging. We need to act now while we still have a chance to save it.”
A recent Australian Government report found that if irrigators made an annual water saving of just 1.3%, the Murray would get the 1500 billion litres it required.

This latest red gum research follows studies showing:

  • Up to half of native freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction.
  • Salt levels are rising in almost all of the Murray Basin’s rivers. The threat of dryland salinity threatens to affect 6 million hectares by 2050.
  • Average annual flows to the sea through the Murray mouth have been reduced by around 75 per cent of what they were at Federation in 1901.

Click here to read the transcript of Tony Eastley’s interview with Paul Sinclair on ABC Radio’s AM program