Australia to review Murray-Darling water distribution

Authorities are considering reversing a water plan that protects supplies for communities and wildlife in the southeast.

    Australia's government is reviewing the way water is distributed in the southeast of the country.

    Two rivers - the Murray and Darling - provide much of the water supply for the hundreds of thousands of Australians. Most live in the city of Adelaide and surrounding rural towns.

    Australia's outback is usually dusty and dry. However, the Menindee Lakes are an exception: they have more water now than they have had in years following an unusually wet few months.

    It is good news for tourist operations such as Lady River Tours of Robert Gregory.

    "The lakes look great and it's really good for the town," said Gregory, who runs boat tours for bird watchers. "Tourists come in and spend money, which keeps the economy buzzing."

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    A plan was introduced five years ago to stop farmers upstream from taking too much water to protect communities and wildlife downstream. Now, a U-turn in policy is being considered.

    Environmentalists say communities upstream take so much water that it damages wetlands and ecosystems downstream. It also reduces the amount of water that downstream towns such as Broken Hill and cities, particularly Adelaide, rely on.

    "Irrigation as an industry has a huge role to play in terms of keeping the communities vibrant. So how much can you continue to take?" Tony Thompson, a cotton farmer, told Al Jazeera.

    Barnaby Joyce, Australia's agriculture and water minister, has backed a review calling for a reduction in the plan's targets. He has also promised to look at how water-allocation decisions affect rural communities.

    But downstream - at the other end of the river - local politicians and environmentalists want the current plan to be more ambitious, for rivers to flow more in line with their original courses.

    Clearly, Australia's water wars have some way to run.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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