Our greatest natural resources
in Australia are the soil we stand on, grow produce in and graze livestock on, and the water that makes the rural produce
production possible. Yet, soil and water conservation matters in Australia are in crisis through decades
of neglect and underestimation of the problems. Now that the problem has been recognised by most people,
budgetary constraints and an attitude of political priorities and righteousness stand in the way of the solutions.
What is needed is decisive action in each of these areas, and the technology is currently available in Australia.
However, the timeframes are shortening rapidly. As at June 2008, it was estimated that unless the
Murray River system flowed and preferably flooded through the lake system at the river mouth, the internationally known Coorongs,
within 4 months the region would be effectively dead and unable to be restored to life as a river ecosystem. Many
of the native species of fish and other wildlife face extinction if this happens. This is the diagnosis
of scientists who have been working in this region and specialising in the Murray River system for years. The system
is still critical, although rainfall in the upper reaches has enabled some flow into the system.
What can be done?
Contrary to popular belief, Australia has an abundance of water, but a poor distribution of it. We
have enormous amounts of rainfall in the northern and eastern regions of Australia and very little substantial rain on the
southern and western regions. The great dividing range on the east coast separates the high and low rainfall
areas on the east coast, and the channel country deserts to the north separate the Darling River catchment from the northern
flowing rivers and rainfall area. We also have some quite large lakes and storage systems on the Darling
River System, including Cubby Cubby Station and the Menindee Lakes. Cubby Cubby Station has now been bought by the Federal
Government, ostensibly for its water carrying capacity, and been subsequently found to drain into another river system.
Although it is now $25,000,000 of wasted taxpayer money, it does demonstrate that water storage in this area is viable.
This suggests that other, better placed water storage areas could be located throughout Northern Australia to harvest
excess flood waters from the summer monsoon rains. The Ord River is an example of a great catchment area and storage,
although it is a very long way from the Darling River.
Geologist John Nethery has investigated the Flinders River
catchment area and suggests that a viable site for water storage exists there, harvesting water from a 2,000 km square catchment
area for diversion into the Thompson River. This initiative is explained more fully on the "Diverting Northern
Rivers South" page.
The same principle applies to many of the East Coast rivers and especially those from
the NSW Northern Rivers region, where flood damage is a regular problem for transport and local farming operations alike.
With proper surveying and judicious application of hydraulic technology, water
that currently flows North and East to the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Barrier Reef and smothers coral, could be partly
diverted inland and enable at least annual flushing of the Darling River system, which in turn will enable the currently meagre
flows of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers to be supplemented to the level required to flood flush the river system.
Not wholesale river diversion, as all river flows are important, but enough to supplement the inland flows, while minimising
the flood damage of the coastal flowing rivers at peak times and in their wet seasons.
Once regular river flows are re-established, flood mitigation and water harvesting will be enabled along the
river flowing in either direction. The benefits of this go much further than simply preventing the most
severe floods, or enabling irrigation to occur.
Salinity. Proper soil management, growing the right trees, maintaining the water table, these are now factors
which are much better understood than they were five, three or even one decade ago. However, we now know
that we have the technology to combat soil salinity with suitable vegetation and proper application of water as and when required,
for the vegetation growth to be enabled. The only other factors missing are the government funds allocation
and the will to act where necessary to correct the problem with direction and resource allocation. Both
the Natural Sequence Farming and Keyline systems have and demonstrate perfectly suitable methods and strategies for rehabilitation
of soil salinity problems. Both have been viable for at least two decades, and Keyline was an established
practice over 6 decades ago, yet lack of political will and a true appreciation of the severity of the problem have sidelined
them until now, when millions of years of geological evolution, rest on the decisions to be taken or abrogated in the next
Currently, river flows and irrigation channels are uncovered
and very inefficient. Whilst a major operation, covering irrigation channels is
something that can be geared up for production-wise, and undertaken in short time.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Research these topics:
- The Keyline Plan – P A Yeomans – WATER FOR EVERY FARM. Over 6 decades
ago, this was new technology. It is still relevant and effective.
- Natural Sequence Farming – Peter Andrews. Study this newly
and contrast these two powerful soil and water philosophies – see how supplementary and complementary they are to each
other – Keyline on the slopes and NSF in the watercourses.
Spread the word in any
area where soil and water conservation or soil salinity or degradation is occurring. Apply your new knowledge
to the reclamation of these areas and recruit local support for people, teams and businesses to help you to do the reclamation
work or get it done.