Placing the Coorong under the care of an independent trust may be the best way to stop it being used as a political football, locals say.
More than 20 fishers, shackies and environmental advocates gathered at Meningie on Friday to demand a better answer to the region's woes than political grandstanding or criticism from upstream.
The Coorong was suffering just like the rest of the Murray-Darling river system, they said.
Its water was stagnant and nutrient-rich, and had become clogged with algae and bacteria that turned it yellow, killed crabs by the thousands and made shellfish poisonous to eat.
Yet no-one could agree on what the waterway was supposed to look like, and what needed to be done to fix it.
Without a strategic plan for the Coorong, local ecologist Faith Coleman said, research funding was handed out willy-nilly and researchers had a financial incentive to keep finding problems they could offer to solve.
"At the moment we've got different people saying different things at different times, and getting lots of money to (do) lots of research and not necessarily fix anything," she said.
"We have people raising issues and getting money to fix it.
"It's a conflict of interest – if you find lots of issues, you get lots of money."
The answer she proposed, one supported by almost everyone at Friday's meeting, was setting up a Coorong Environmental Trust, an independent board responsible for managing the waterway.
It would have seven members: five locals, a state government representative and a Ngarrindjeri spokesperson.
Local people were not all scientists or policy advisors, Ms Coleman said, but their knowledge of the Coorong was a valuable resource that was not being used.
The trust's board would set out a vision for the Coorong, draw together all past research, advise governments and universities about how funding and environmental water could best be used, and monitor local conditions.
For example, fisherman Glen Hill believed wind had a greater effect on the spread of algae than water flow, but did not know of anyone who had ever proven it.
"The idea is the trust brings a single point of view," Mr Hill said.
"It's certain not to work fantastically all the time, but it stops what's happening at the moment where the same research is being used by two groups of people, one saying (it shows) the Coorong mostly used to be hypersaline, one saying it was mostly fresh."
Only one person at the meeting expressed serious doubts about the plan: Ngarrindjeri elder Darrell Sumner, who said nothing could restore the Coorong to the state it was in before European settlement.
"Only a certain number of people can live on the land," he said.
"The survival of that land is more important than life itself."
Still, he acknowledged that he had waited 70 years for an improvement and would wait a few more if he had to.
The fight to establish a trust will be taken up in Parliament by Greens MP Tammy Franks, who said she hoped to work with Liberal and Labor politicians to reach a consensus on the issue.
"It might surprise you, but sometimes politicians actually want to get good outcomes and work together," she said.
"This is one of those instances."
A member of her staff has begun drafting legislation that would bring the body into being.
With seven years left in her term, she said she was in it for the long haul.