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from todays tiser


THE Federal Government will pump $500 million into reducing salinity and increasing flows in the River Murray in Budget measures to be announced tonight.

The Advertiser understands Treasurer Peter Costello's 11th Budget will include the new river spending, which will be paid directly to the Murray Darling Basin Commission.

While the money will be spent by the commission at its discretion, it is believed the funds will be directed at six significant ecological assets, including the Murray Mouth, the Coorong and Lower Lakes, and the River Murray Channel.

A highly placed source said the Government believed this would be the biggest single investment in the recovery of the ailing river.

Describing it as one of the Budget's "genuine big ticket items", the source said the spending was aimed at accelerating capital works to help the Government meet the environmental flow target of an extra 500 gigalitres a year.

The initiative takes the Government's overall investment in the River Murray to almost $2 billion since coming to office in 1996.

The Commonwealth has not put conditions on the allocation, but will call on the basin states to respond with increased spending.

The commission is made up of the Commonwealth, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT.

Sources said projects funded by the investment would result in the construction of "salt interception structures to reduce salinity and the maintenance and renewal of River Murray water infrastructure".

This would include repairing and replacing pumps and housings associated with irrigation along the river as well as using new technologies "to maximise the environmental benefits of water recovered from the river's immediate area", the source said.

The 2004 Council of Australian Governments meeting agreed to a $500 million plan to return 500 gigalitres to the ailing waterway by 2009, but there are doubts the target can be met.

The parliamentary secretary with responsibility for water, Malcolm Turnbull, told The Advertiser last month that state governments had been slow bringing forward additional water recovery proposals.

As well as improved flows, several specific projects in the SA section of the river have been earmarked. These include:

$6 MILLION each for construction of fishways and upgrades of locks at Blanchetown, Waikerie, Overland Corner, Bookpurnong, Renmark and Murtho.

SALT interception schemes at Waikerie ($10.6 million), Loxton ($8.5 million) and Murtho ($10 million).
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