It is often said that Australia is’ a land of droughts and flooding rains’. Yes it is, but climate change is predicted to bring more frequent, intense flood and drought events with more severe impacts, as well as reduced water availability as the timing of rainfall shifts to warmer months.
I have just visited the Bangor fire ground in the southern Flinders Ranges of South Australia, where one month of unstoppable bushfires were succeeded by a severe storm and flash flooding which swept bare soil and ash into all the streams. Another smaller flash flood occurred last week, dislodging more soil. The communities across the fire area, which burnt from west to east across the ranges covering over 900 square kilometres, will be picking up the pieces for years to come.
Nature has already started to repair the surviving burnt trees, but it will be at least 2 years before there is new seed available from burnt eucalypts, and the seedlings will have to compete with the weeds that will spring up on the damp bare soil. The eucalypt communities of this region were already stressed from reduced water availability, with a critical failure to recruit new trees over the past decade. The fires and floods have set back the chance of new seedlings by another 2-3 years.
Australia may be a land of droughts and flooding rains, but our management of the land has reduced its resilience to drought and capacity to absorb floods, with consequences for the whole community. Even ignoring climate change, our management of soil, plant cover and water is not sustainable. Our focus should be on responsible management of our precious natural resources, and we should be demanding increased funding for this critical task.