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Low Murray River levels hurt tourism, says council

Berrigan Shire councillors have expressed their concern at low Murray River levels and the impact that had on tourism during the busy summer holiday period.

RANDALL JOHNSTON February 27, 2013 4:56am

Berrigan Shire councillors have expressed their concern at low Murray River levels and the impact that had on tourism during the busy summer holiday period.

The council has been actively lobbying the Murray-Darling Basin Authority about the issue, which they feel is having a seriously negative impact.

The worry is that people who come to the region to make use of the river promptly leave on discovering the river is too low for them to use for water sports and the like.

It was noted that the river was very low during the Christmas holiday period, and the council’s lobbying effort has been supported by Sun Country on the Murray, Murray Regional Tourism Board and the Tocumwal Regional Tourism Board.

Berrigan Shire Mayor Bernard Curtin said the management of river levels had a ‘‘significant impact on the economy and tourism’’.

He said the decreased river levels occurred during the two busy holiday periods — first at Christmas and then again during the Australia Day weekend.

A meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, March 14 at Tocumwal football ground, which will give councillors and other interested parties a chance to have their say about what they see as a critically important issue.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief executive Rhondda Dickson, as well as other members of the MDBA, will attend.

It is not just the impact on tourism that has councillors’ backs up. The council is also concerned about the impact on agriculture.

Councillors felt the tourism impact was entirely unnecessary and could easily be avoided through better river management by MDBA.

The council’s general manager Rowan Perkins said decisions made by the MDBA had a huge effect on the local economy.

‘‘These low river levels were of high concern due to the effect on safe navigation and the unnecessary conflict between all water users competing for limited usable water area,’’ Mr Perkins said.

‘‘The fact (is that) river levels were lower than during the drought and water levels rose immediately after the peak visitation period.

‘‘This situation resulted in the departure of many visitors to the area.’’

The meeting next month will also give councillors and council staff a better understanding of what future river levels will be maintained under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

MDBA director of river operations Damian Green said in a letter to Cr Curtin that all the council’s questions and concerns would be addressed at the meeting on March 14, but did answer the question to some degree.

‘‘River levels were temporarily low (over the Christmas holiday period) downstream of Yarrawonga Weir during the peak tourism season due to irrigation diversions from Lake Mulwala exceeding previously placed orders, because of the very high temperatures,’’ Mr Green said.

‘‘River operators have clear priorities to meet irrigation requirements, but do try to optimise other social and economic demands on the River Murray’s water.’’

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