Lake Albert scoping study

A question to the Minister for Water and the River Murray about the Lake Albert scoping study

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 14:26 :09 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water and the River Murray questions on the subject of the Lake Albert scoping study.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The official document, 'Lake Albert Scoping Study Outcomes' makes the following statement:

Community generally see this [referring to the cycling option] as a slow and non-effective process.

Further, I note that the minister, in his media release, has described water cycling as the 'best management option', even though the report itself says:

The Coorong Connector delivered substantial improvement in Lake Albert's salinity…Lake Cycling was the only other option that resulted in salinity improvement, but less so than the Connector over the same time period.

My questions to the minister are:

1.What quantity of water is used per cycle?

2.What market price would be put on that quantity of water in today's market? Does the minister have an estimate of what that would cost in a drought?

3.Has the minister spoken to upstream states about releasing more water, considering that the cycling option would rely on it?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) ( 14:27 :33 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions if not for her selective quoting of the report, and I will come to that in a minute. I also have to put on the record that some of the comments on this issue are a little curious, because what is the point of having a scientific study if you don't pay attention to the outcome? That is something I would highlight to members opposite: there is no point criticising a scientific study unless you have read it and, of course—

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, that's another thing altogether; we can't help people there. There is no point in having a scientific study and then ignoring the results of that study. But, of course, this is bread-and-butter behaviour for the Liberal Party in this study. This is the modus operandi of the Liberal Party. They have caught the scientific ignorance bug from their federal colleagues, and it is well and truly spreading to the South Australian Liberal Party's heads in the sand sort of behaviour.

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: Answer the question.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I am being invited to answer the question, Mr President, so I will. Again, on 1 September 2014, a scoping study investigated potential solutions to manage Lake Albert's salinity levels, and it was released at that time. After extensive community engagement and investigation of five options, the study has recommended the preferred practice of lake cycling. The effective long-term management of the Coorong, the Lower Lakes and the Murray Mouth region in general remains a top priority for this government and, indeed, for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

Whilst it is declining, I am advised that salinity levels in Lake Albert are above the historic average of 1,500 EC. As at 5 September, the salinity in the lake was approximately 2,200 EC. It is worth remembering, of course, that, at the height of the drought, salinity in Lake Albert passed 20,000 EC.

In November 2012, funding of up to about $740,000 was approved for a study into the long-term management of water quality issues in Lake Albert and the Narrung Narrows. At 30 June 2014, approximately $650,000 has been spent on the study, I am advised, to date. That money, of course, came from the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth Recovery project, which this government, under this Premier, Jay Weatherill, fought so hard for and achieved for our state by uniting the river communities, against all the advice from the Liberal opposition, which was recommending to us in government that we should be supporting the Mazda model that was on offer from the federal government and the Liberal states. Instead, we went for the Rolls Royce and won it. The Lake Albert scoping study commenced in—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Again, Mr President, these people over here want to ignore all the scientific advice. They want to ignore all the best evidence that is available to government, and that is their practice; that is their practice. You get scientific advice and it changes the facts, changes the position, and it is incumbent on policymakers to change their views in relation to the new advice. Not the Liberal Party—they like to stick with what they know (or what they don't know) and any new advice, any new science that is presented to them, they turn away and they turn a blind eye, because they do not know how to understand science. That's their problem and thank goodness they are in opposition and will stay there for some time.

The project considered management actions against the basin plan 2,750-gigalitre per year scenario: the base case of do nothing; the dredging of the Narrung Narrows; the removal or modification of the Narrung causeway; a permanent water regulating structure in the narrows; or a Coorong connector, be it a pipe or a channel or some other temporary process like reset pumping; and, of course, lakes cycling.

These considerations include those suggested by the Meningie Narrung Lakes Irrigators Association in its five-point plan for the management of Lake Albert. The project included a literature review, a community requirements study, a legislative review, a qualitative engineering investigation, modelling studies, on-ground investigations, engineering feasibility and cost-benefit analysis. This is the point the Hon. Michelle Lensink left out of her quote of the study: the cost-benefit analysis.

The options paper involved extensive consultation, which of course the Hon. Michelle Lensink does not do. She doesn't have extensive consultation when she brings something into parliament—to destroy the marine parks, for example—but we did. The options paper included extensive consultation, including the development of the community requirements study undertaken by an independent market research company to capture community opinion on potential management actions and their requirements regarding the management of Lake Albert.

Cultural considerations of the proposed management actions were also taken into account, and a number of discussion forums were held with the Ngarrindjeri in the formation of the position paper. In recommending lakes cycling as the most feasible option for managing Lake Albert salinity, the options paper does not support a Coorong connector due to the anticipated costs and the time frame required to deliver the benefits, which when compared to the lakes cycling option would not have been any sooner. Other engineering solutions are also discounted due to those options being either cost prohibitive or not technically feasible.

The local and interstate irrigation community has often raised the construction of a Coorong connector as its preferred option and has raised concerns over the lakes cycling option. That is true. Recently (last August) I referred to the need for additional water in the context of the lake water level cycling, because the report said that whilst there is adequate water in the plan for lake level cycling, it also recommends more active consideration, more active cycling, and to that end we will need to have possibly more water, or to in fact do more active cycling in conjunction with other watering events that may be happening upstream and piggyback on that. That is something that it would be very sensible to do, and the report recommends that we investigate that.

I understand that a number of people have been in the media commenting on this since the release of the options paper supporting or opposing the lakes cycling option, but, again, I recommend to people to read the report, understand what the science is saying and, particularly for the Hon. Michelle Lensink, understand the cost-benefit ratios that are applied, because there is no point in spending $19 million on a piece of infrastructure which won't deliver benefits for several years. We can get those benefits more cheaply and earlier through the report's recommendation.