The Straits Times
Published on Nov 22, 2012

Australia approves plan to save vital river system


SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia has approved an "historic" plan to save an ailing river system vital to the nation's food bowl by returning the equivalent of five Sydney Harbour's worth of water to the network each year.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said on Thursday, he signed into law the final draft of a water reform plan for the Murray-Darling Basin, a river network sprawling for one million square kilometres across five Australian states.

The scheme will see 2,750 gigalitres of water, equivalent to five Sydney Harbours, returned annually as environmental flows to the system - short of the 4,000 gigalitres sought by conservationists but more than wanted by farmers. Mr Burke said the figure could reach 3,200 gigalitres with infrastructure improvements to which the government had committed A$1.77 billion (S$2.2 billion).

Two million tonnes of salt - enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground - would also be flushed out every year under the plan, which he described as "historic".