Sunday, September 14

Precious Water

Australia is a highly urbanized country with a concentration of population residing along its eastern seaboard, as over 80 per cent live on a mere slither (just 1%) of the countries land mass. The outback and country areas in contrast are sparsely occupied, representative of vast grain growing areas and cattle, sheep and dairy farms interspersed with mining pockets. Australia once depended for its prosperity on the wool clip but this is no longer true, athough it remains the world largest supplier of wool. Beef farming ( relying mainly on natural pastures) is also big business indicatve of very large spreads. Anna Creek cattle station in South Australia for instance occupies a land area of 24,000 sq kilometers, (representing the largest cattle station in the world) which is the equivalent to that land area of Belgium.

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.
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Seraphine said...

it's a similar problem in california. use of fertilizers have added excessive levels of chemicals into our water. drought is a persistent problem, and people are arguing over water rights. pretty soon, we'll all be drinking bottled water and taking dry showers.

Zee said...

Water is the "oil" of the future, the quarreling point, the most precious asset on earth.
Big companies, Coka Cola one of them, already bought up extensive water rights in the US.
As Sera said, in California (the southern part is an artificial rejuvenated desert really) the water problem already makes a skirmishing issue. The Colorado river is depleted, similar to the phenomena you have in Australia with your big river there.
Are we as human species just a bunch of eradicate envy nutcases?

Seraphine said...

oh well, let them drink tea.

Seraphine said...

Arnold Schwarzenegger... is helping Californians reduce global warming. He makes the point “people will only achieve their goals if they are forced to.”
lol -who forced arnold into being governor?

susan said...

Good post about a very important subject, lindsay. One thing I always enjoy about visiting you is just how positive you are and how well you describe how much more sensible Australia is compared to the US. How is it that things have got to this state everywhere?

gfid said...

it's a big issue, even here in water rich Canada. with typical north american disdain, we dump our sewage into this vital commodity, and heat and inject it into the tar sands to produce oil. half the planet is parched, and we're busy thinking of bigger and better ways to poison good drinking water, as if we'll never run out of it (just like we'll never run out of oil, right?). ....not my idea of good management, but nobody listens to a fiddler.

Progressive Traditionalist said...

Hello, Lindsay.
A few thoughts, in no particular order (go figure):

In the US, a lot of the irrigation water to the west of the Mississippi comes from the Ogallala aquifer. This stretches from Nebraska to Texas, but is adjudicated state by state.
I read in a newspaper in Nebraska about water rationing for irrigation purposes, and spoke to a friend in Texas about a week later. When I asked him about it, he had not heard of any issues of the water level in the aquifer.

From your post, it would appear as if Australia is without any significant underground sources.
Is this indeed the case?

As the aquifer is administered on a state-by-state basis, so are the rivers, but with federal oversight.
One of the areas where this comes most clearly into play is dams, reservoirs, etc.
There are established amounts of water that states downstream are entitled to, and the building of any dam must account for this. Alternative sources must be provided before upstream states are allowed to build.
Often is the case that the upstream states are more hard pressed for the water than the ones downstream.

Wondering if the rivers are administrated federally or at the provincial level.

Along the Pecos, the nearest river to where I grew up, there has been an effort to remove the salt cedars from along the river banks. Come to find out that this is not a native species after all.
The problem is that these trees aspirate water into the atmosphere at an alarming rate.
So, down they go. More water.


A long time proponent of hydro power, looking at it from this angle, it really kills two birds with one stone.
The primary issue with hydro is species depletion upstream.
Still, the matter has not been studied in instances where aggressive conservation measures are applied (to my knowledge).

How would you rate the prevalence of hydro power in Australia, from very common to quite rare?

Baron's Black Wattle Seed Ale has hit the market in the states.
This is a very good beer, highly recommended.
Now, the card that accompanied the box stated that the wattle seed is experiencing a surge of popularity among Australian chefs.
To my palate, and through this one testing, the stuff has a taste similar to molasses. But I realize it would probably taste differently in something other than a beer.

Have you tasted the wattle seed?
And if so, how would you describe the flavor?

And thanks for the photos.

Seraphine said...

there's an idea. when we run out of water, there will always be beer.
if we have a beer shortage, then the world will finally listen!

Miss Eagle said...

Lindsay, it's been a long time since that windy day at Westerfolds. Came across this post because of research I am doing in relation to water. Lindsay, have lost your email address. Could you drop me a line at eaglemiss(at)gmail(dot)com? Want to pass on some information.

Blessings and bliss

arulba said...

We get our water from the Edward's aquifer and most of us who get it from this aquifer are in the Chihuahuan desert. Recently, demands for water have gone way beyond the Aquifer's ability to supply. We're having major issues over who owns the rights to the Aquifer. We haven't had rain all summer!

arulba said...

Oops! Meant to say that most of us who get our water from the Aquifer are at the edge of the desert (not in it)

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Sera, Zee, Susan, Gfid, PT, Miss Eagle & Laura
Thanks for your visit and all of your interesting comments.
Sera – in many ways California seems similar to Australia; it’s also about the same population...
Zee – I agree “Water is the "oil" of the future,
Are we as human species just a bunch of eradicate envy nutcases? It seems so - present company excluded!
Susan – Thanks for your encouragement. I think it’s a global issue and the results are evident everywhere!
Gfid it certainly is a big issue, if not the biggest. I am sure we all like listening to your valuable ideas – and – hearing your fiddling given the opportunity.
PT -_Thanks for all your thoughts. We are suffering to some extent form depletion of water taken from aquifers- the water table has been reduced and is detrimentally affecting our river system. Our river system was administered by each State but partisan support is now being instigated to allow for an overall cohesive national plan.
Hydro power is also looking rather dodgy since the diversion of the river flow is having a detrimental effect.
I have the wattle seed in my serial for breakfast with a lot of other bush nuts. It’s not really suitable on its own.
Arulba – thanks for the info, I hope you get rain soon.

Seraphine said...

i think i've discovered
a solution
to the water crisis!
it is so simple.
bong water!