IT is one thing to criticise the amount of environmental water allocated to the Lower Lakes in South Australia, but another to do so while standing on their shores.
Delegates from throughout the river basin, including New South Wales and Victoria, have toured the Lower Lakes during a Murray-Darling Association conference and many found it an eye-opening experience.
Mayor Peter Maytom of Leeton Shire, on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales, was among them.
“I’ve seen it, I suppose, on diagrams and pictures, but to go down and experience it was amazing to say the least,” he said.
He said Murray-Darling Association delegates had voted to support several initiatives for the river’s health, including upgrades of the barrages at Goolwa.
“In the region where I’m from, there’s a common call to say ‘let’s get rid of the barrages’,” he said.
“You and I know that’s not going to happen, and I have to take a responsible position.
“It has been identified by people other than myself that there could be works done to improve their effectiveness - the time taken to open and close the gates during storms and so on.”
He said the tour would make it easier for him to defend allocations of water to environmental flows.
"(Riverina residents) see the water's going down (here), fresh water to the Lower Lakes, and say the system up there is paying the price," he said.
"To go along the Coorong and look at the Murray mouth, how the system operates, gives me a far better position, understanding the whole system and how it works.
Mildura councillor Judi Harris said she too believed upstream farmers' concerns could be allayed.
"I represent the residents and I'm concerned about the impact (of water allocation) on farming and river economies," she said.
"(But) I believe we can have it all - environmental flows without inconvenience to farmers.
"What's really important is that we're now trying to look at the basin as a whole, and I think that's really powerful."
Coorong Mayor-cum-tour guide Roger Strother said the visitors' responses had given him plenty of enthusiasm.
"There were quite a few people from New South Wales and Victoria and it opened their eyes about what's around this area," he said.
He said the opinions of some had already begun to change during the conference as they spoke in less aggressive tones about the lakes' need for water.
"All the motions put forward in regard to the lake and the lower river were passed without any problem," he said.
"I couldn't believe how well it came off."
The minutes of the association's annual general meeting, held at the conference, are not available for public scrutiny, but The Standard will publish more details as they become available.