RESTORING Lake Albert to health would create 273 jobs and add $30.7 million to the regional economy, a study has found.
Regional Development Australia (RDA) commissioned the study to strengthen its argument for more government investment in reducing the lake's salinity, which has rendered it unusable for irrigation or livestock.
The study made clear the drought's impact on industries around the lake: farm input, gross regional product and household income fell by about 90 per cent of 2003 levels, and 229 jobs were lost. Improving the lake's water could increase farm production 10-fold by allowing irrigators to grow higher-quality crops further inland, the report found.
East Meningie farmer Rhys Fischer said he and several neighbours wanted to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a 30-kilometre irrigation pipeline from the lake, but could not do so unless its water quality improved.
"We can pump water a lot cheaper out of the lake than the $3.25 we pay for SA Water," he said.
"It's an expensive project (but) if the lake's fresh, we get good water and we know it's not going to go dry, it'll be worth the cost." RDA Murraylands and Riverland chief executive officer Brenton Lewis hoped the study would fortify the argument for government funding when a second report, into practical options for reducing Lake Albert's salinity, was completed in the coming months.
"Lakeside communities would need to unite behind whatever solution was proposed," he said.
"Through the tough times, when a Federal politician would come to the region, I'd take them above Lock 1 and they'd have one hymn book and one song," he said.
"Below Lock 1 we're quite disparate in how we represent ourselves.
"It's quite hard to have a politician listen."
The Lower Lakes had a unique advantage over other parts of the Murray, he said: a lack of salinity impact zones to restrict industrial development.
"As long as you can get water to it of reliable quality ... there's more high value-added horticultural crops this region can accommodate."
A pipeline connecting Lake Albert to the Coorong, allowing water to circulate instead of stagnating, has been a prominent proposal for more than 30 years.