State Library of South Australia logoDownstream, the River Murray in South Australia
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

The dwindling River

Droughts and floods   
Effects of weirs, locks, barrages and dams   
Salinity: the white plague   
The Murray Mouth   
Problems with introduced species   

Today, many believe that the Murray is 'dwindling'. Environmental issues such as rising salinity levels, the impact of introduced animal and plant species on ecosystems within the river, and the effects of human regulation of the river have become pressing concerns for all who rely on the Murray.

Whilst a variety of human activities have impacted on the health of the river, it is important to view these events within the context of their times and with their intended aims in mind. For example, the construction of the Murray Mouth barrages, the locks, weirs and dams were considered beneficial. At the time, their construction provided employment. These structures improved the river's water quality and regulated quantity, resulting in extensive improvement in the productivity of the surrounding farmland. This attracted more settlement and industries dependent on the reliable availability of water from the River Murray, with positive effects on South Australian and national economies.

However, the regulation of the Murray and the 'artificial' environment created has had an adverse impact on the natural river system. Before regulation, the river was temperamental - in years of high rainfall it would flood, and in years of drought, the river was reduced to no more than puddles in some places. Such extremes in water levels were accommodated by the indigenous plants and animals of the Murray but could be devastating to the communities that now relied on the river to support them and their activities.

The inter-related issues which affect the River Murray require cooperative action and holistic management to ensure the river's health, and support the human communities and native species that depend upon it.



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