Sunday, September 14
The country landscape is extremely fragile and one of the driest on planet earth; continually plagued by drought whose frequency is accelerating. It is hardly surprising our river systems are all in dire need of more water and at a crisis point due to continual irrigation.
Our pioneers were blissfully unaware of the consequences of their actions; reshaping the landscape in the shadow of ill conceived British farming practices with extensive tree felling and overgrazing of sheep and cattle combined with extensive large scale irrigation in arid areas. Although most Farmers have largely reversed this unsustainable trend to become staunch conservationists under the auspices of the land care groups water use remains a vexing question.
Irrigation has not only deprived our river systems of vital water supply but raised the water table to the extent we now have miles and miles of desolate, salt filled land with pools of salt water rendering land unusable. Similar outcomes are prevalent in parts of the USA, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan, all effected by salination. The worst effected area is our largest river system, the Murray which flows along the eastern side of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria borders. Irrigation from the Murray sustains this region which produces over 40% of Australia’s fresh fruit and vegetables, but at a terrible cost to the river and its eco system. Irrigation water drawn from the Murray( which represents over 85% of all irrigation in Australia ) has resulted in so little water remaining in the once mighty river its flow was insufficient to carry any fresh water into the ocean. This environmental position for the river if allowed to continue will have a devastating affect on its biology, eliminating most species who are dependant upon the oceans flushing effect near its mouth.
Australia needs to face the reality we are a more suited to dry farming (reliance on rainfall) which applies to most areas which necessitates a sensible plan of transition with adequate compensation to irrigation farmers such as the acquisition of properties at fair market value. Several large scale acquisitions of properties with water licenses to irrigate are under consideration but much more needs to be done. This will involve ongoing negotiation, goodwill and planning at state and federal levels of government. It will require substantial change to lifestyles and less agricultural output but the alternative are not sustainable and the longer we leave it the more painful will be the later adjustment necessary.
I am also not in favour of the current desalination plants under construction or in the diversion of water previously available for farmers to our cities.
The above photos depict local scenes of the Yarra River and nearby; of river banks resplendent of early wattle blossoms to disguise our rivers desperate need for more water flow.