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WINEMAKER Darren De Bortoli and senior investigative journalist Ken Jury are reigniting the Murray Darling debate with a call for an additional river lock in an attempt to save billions of litres of Murray Darling Basin water each year.

A proposed Lock Zero would be built above Wellington, 105km South-east of Adelaide, that would increase fresh water availability throughout the up-river food producing regions of the Murray-Darling Basin system.

This would provide a welcome reprieve from the ongoing ‘us-versus-them’ debate between irrigators, conservationists and governments as Lock Zero is designed as the key infrastructure towards meeting the needs of the basin environment while ensuring increased water provisions for its local food grower communities and farmers alike.

“There are three major benefits to Lock Zero; the first is to ensure a healthy river system; secondly to return the lakes near the mouth of the river to their natural estuarine state; and thirdly, the means to provide valuable water supplies to farming communities throughout the Basin – which accounts for 40 per cent of all food and fibre grown in Australia,” De Bortoli says.

“What is not acceptable is maintaining an artificial fresh-water lake system in the middle of a drought and wasting thousands of gigalitres of valuable fresh-water worth billions of dollars. This foolishness defies logic and common sense.”

Senator John Madigan, independent for Victoria, has thrown his support behind calls by Jury and De Bortoli to reignite the Murray Darling debate.

He’s been a long term critic of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, calling it a “cruel and deliberate attempt to mislead farmers”.

“The changes suggested by Darren and Ken are urgently needed to help secure the future of our largest food bowl. They would have enormous benefit for the region and Australia as a whole.”

Jury, a long-serving marine and aquatic journalist who lives in Goolwa, South Australia, has spent the past 10 years studying the social and economic impacts of the Murray Darling Basin.

He was also executive producer of the basin documentary, Muddied Waters that aired in December 2012.

“There is a misconception that the Murray River’s Lower Lakes’ natural state is that of freshwater. The truth is they’re more often estuarine,” he said.

“In pre-barrage times, low flows meant that the remaining fresh water trickles from the river had to compete with Southern Ocean intrusions, hence the flow of freshwater being pushed back into the upper end of the Lower Lakes, resulting in a mix of ocean and fresh water into an estuarine condition.

“With a new downstream lock the locals name Lock Zero, we would regulate minimal freshwater flow into the lower lakes to mix with ocean water to form and maintain an estuarine environment.”

Jury and scientist colleague Ian Rowan have spent considerable time over many years, monitoring and recording sea water intrusions into the Lower Lakes when the barrages were open and closed.

Around this time, eight of the many official automatic beacons measuring the salinity of water, were decommissioned by the South Australian Government and some local users of the beacon data suggested this was an attempt to cover up the natural estuarine state of the Lower Lakes.

The work of Jury and Rowan would allow the communities along the Murray-Darling to bank more than 2700 gigalitres of water each year.

Valued up to $5 billion dollars annually, this saving would enable communities to adjust to climate variability and uncertainty, and enable irrigators and the environment to receive the benefits of additional water during droughts.