Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

South Australia’s water problem

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Wednesday, 5 June 2019

We all know the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) was implemented primarily for environmental reasons. But does the environment benefit from all the water that ends up in South Australia?

The answer is no. In fact the environment would be better off if a lot of that water was retained in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.  Indeed, much of it could be used for agriculture in those states, at no cost to the environment but with multiple benefits for regional Australia.

The MDBP calls for the ‘return’ of 2,750 GL of water to the environment, via water rights purchased from farmers and efficiency measures. A further 450 GL is to be returned subject to certain conditions.


Under the Plan, SA is guaranteed a minimum of 1,850 GL a year. However, according to the SA EPA, SA’s total water consumption is just 1,000 GL per year, of which agriculture consumes three-quarters. Households, manufacturing and mining account for the remainder.

Adelaide also has a desalination plant capable of producing half its household and industry requirements. The plant must only use renewable energy though, which means it is expensive and rarely operates.

Unlike in southern Queensland, NSW and Victoria, where the loss of irrigation has devastated many regional communities, the purchase of water rights in SA has had little impact. Of the almost 1,500 GL of rights bought by the government, less than 10% has come from SA.

Despite this, many South Australians believe they live a precarious life due to a lack of water. So significant is this perception that it is said to determine the outcome of marginal SA seats.

To be fair, most South Australians are probably pretty ignorant about why they have this perception. Most would not realise, for example, that Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert (the lower lakes) are kept artificially fresh by five barrages erected in the 1930s to prevent the entry of the sea. As a consequence, tidal flows are unable to keep the Murray mouth open, which is now quite silted and requires constant dredging.

They also will not know that the South East drainage scheme, which converted huge areas of wetlands into productive farmland, diverts large amounts of water and salt out to sea instead of into the Coorong, where it once flowed. This has had a very deleterious effect on the Coorong.


And they will believe, because it’s what they have been told, that sending more and more water down the Murray will somehow keep the Murray mouth open and restore health to the Coorong, despite neither being true.

What actually happens is that around 900 GL of fresh water simply evaporates in the lower lakes. That’s 900 GL, taken from the other states, which has zero environmental benefits. Evaporation will always occur, but if the Murray mouth was open and the sea was free to enter, it could be seawater that evaporates (or at least a mixture of fresh and seawater). An artificial environment is being maintained at the expense of Australian farming and rural communities.

What ought to happen is for the SA government to demolish the barrages and remove Bird Island, a sand island that has formed in the mouth of the Murray as a result of the effect of the barrages. This would allow the Murray to run free.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This article was first published in The Land.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

1 post so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is a former Senator for the Liberal Democrats.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Leyonhjelm

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of David Leyonhjelm
Article Tools
Comment 1 comment
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy