Water could be flowing reliably through the mouth of the ailing Murray-Darling river system for as little as a fifth of the $21 billion invested so far in environmental programs.
According to Dr Lisa Lee, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Applied Economic Research at UNSW, funds should have been spent decisively on buying back water rights from irrigators. Almost 90 per cent of the river system's water is used for agriculture and town water supplies.
"Instead, poorly informed investment decisions and politically motivated buck passing has seen billions spent but little achieved," she told a UNSW conference on salinity and biosecurity hosted this week by the Australian School of Business.
Her research found a total of $21.4 billion has been spent on a range of policies since 1992, while the river system's health continued to decline.
"Suppose we had put this money towards a buy back years ago ... at $1,000 a megalitre we could have purchased 21,000 gigalitres, almost double the natural discharge level at the Murray mouth - four or five times the amount we needed," Dr Lee said.
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