Bi-partisan support for Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Healthy River Ambassadors Rosa Hillam and Anne Jensen met with SA Liberal Member for Hammond Adrian Pederick on 25 November to discuss Basin issues, and found that he had already issued a press release saying he was committed to seeing the full 3200 GL returned to the river system. Adrian is calling for all parties to work collaboratively to deliver the Plan in full.hra-meeting-with-sa-liberal-member-adrian-pederick-25-nov2016

It’s been a roller coaster period in recent weeks for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, with fiery arguments about how to reduce over-allocation of precious water resources but it seems to have reached a positive outcome in the last few days, with bi-partisan calls for the Basin Plan to be implemented in full, with 3200 GL to be returned to sustain river health into the future.

At first it seemed that all the attention was on the bad language used by a very frustrated Water Minister, rather than on the disagreements over returning water to the river systems, but it seems to have been a wake-up call which has focused attention on the key reforms needed.The State Liberal leader Stephen Marshall is now also calling for the 3200 GL, as well as Assistant Minister and Federal Liberal SA Senator Anne Ruston, who said on talk-back radio that implementation of the Plan in full means 3200 GL. So we have all key politicians calling for the same outcome, joining SA’s Premier and Water Minister in their campaign for a sustainable future for the Basin. Here’s to continuing positive steps towards full implementation of the Basin Plan in coming months and years!

Posted in caring for our planet, environmental flows, Murray-Darling Basin, policy, sustainable natural resources management, water conservation | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Extreme spring weather event again

What’s happening with our spring weather??? Hailstorms are normally seen in the tropical and sub-tropical zones of Australia, not in Adelaide in the temperate south. Is this a taste of the predictions for more frequent extreme weather events as a result of increasing temperatures and climate change?

In a sudden storm late afternoon on 11 November 2016, hailstones the size of golf balls lashed suburban Adelaide and other regions of South Australia. The hail stripped leaves off our grapevine, knocked most of the green immature fruit off the peach tree,  and covered the street and driveway with large numbers of small twigs from the river red gum in the street, along with large quantities of ripe buds and fresh flowers.

Our ‘sun-tough’ alsynite polycarbonate clear roofing sheets on the carport and back patio proved not to be hail-tough, as the huge hailstones punched numerous holes straight through the sheets. The sound of hailstones hitting the roof was like rocks pounding down. When I tried to take photos from the front door, hailstones bounced up to 10 m down the hallway! Our car which was parked in the street is now covered in dents on the bonnet and roof — it was just too dangerous to go out to drive it under cover.

Much worse, the trail of damage continued across the state and through the Riverland irrigation district, wiping out fruit crops nearly ready to be picked, and knocking flowers off grapevines. Growers had just signed a deal to sell nectarines to China, but the crop was destroyed in only 10 minutes, leaving growers with no incomes, serious flow-on effects for support industries and fewer jobs for fruit-pickers.


Storm cell moving east across Alexandrina plains near Strathalbyn, south-east of Adelaide, 11 November 2016

In September this year, market gardeners along the Gawler River north of Adelaide were wiped out by major flooding. These two natural disasters will have major impacts on supplies of fruit and vegetables in coming months, leading up to Christmas.

This was much worse than the hailstorm last year. In September 2015, hail stones the size of marbles stripped our garden, knocking off nearly all the flowers on the orange tree and shredding its leaves, wiping out our crop of oranges in June 2016. What can we expect in spring 2017??

aftermath of hailstorm

Hailstorm in September 2015


Posted in caring for our planet, climate change, disturbance, rainfall, sustainable natural resources management, weather patterns | Tagged , , ,

Healthy Rivers Ambassadors supporting Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Healthy Rivers Ambassadors have been meeting recently with key politicians about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. These meetings have been an encouraging start to establishing relationships with central players as the Basin Plan rolls toward implementation.

State Minister for Water & Environment Ian Hunter welcomed the formation of our group and encouraged us to continue lobbying to support the Plan.


Healthy Rivers Ambassadors Anne Jensen, Liz Frankel & Rosa Hillam meeting with Minister Ian Hunter

Federal Senator Anne Ruston gave us a 100% iron-clad guarantee that the Plan will be implemented by 2019, with full bi-partisan support in the federal parliament. Riverland MP Tim Whetstone indicated strong support for the MDB Plan from the South Australian State opposition.


Healthy Rivers Ambassadors Liz Frankel, Kate Strachan & Anne Jensen meeting with Senator Anne Ruston (left), with MP Tim Whetstone and Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder David Papps (back)

Federal MP Rebekha Sharkie from the Nick Xenophon Team agreed that we need to get water back on the political agenda at both state and federal levels.


Hon Rebekha Sharkie, Member for Mayo

Healthy Rivers Ambassadors is a group of citizens from across the Murray Darling Basin who represent a diverse range of communities and interests including Traditional Owners, agriculture, irrigation, science, fishing, tourism, art and local communities. We support delivery of the Murray Darling Basin Plan in full and without delay.


Healthy Rivers Ambassadors Liz Frankel, Howard Jones & Anne Jensen attend the Water For Nature workshop at Banrock Station

Posted in caring for our planet, community engagement, environmental flows, Murray-Darling Basin, sustainable natural resources management, water conservation, water issues, water supply, waterways | Tagged , , , , ,

Water, water everywhere!

Flood flows have reached the barrages and the Murray Mouth, already at 48,000 ML/d and predicted to go as high as 80,000 ML/d by December. What a difference from just four months ago, when a forecast of drought conditions led to the Minister for Water to announce restricted irrigation allocations of 38%!

On a field trip with a delegation of Indian water engineers yesterday, we saw strong flows through all five barrage structures, with more than 180 gates open in the 3.6 km Tauwitchere barrage. The high numbers of piscivorous birds indicated a feast of fish!

The flood flows will be very beneficial in scouring sand deposits out of the channels leading to the Murray Mouth, promoting fish passage through the barrages and freshening the Coorong wetland. Here’s hoping we get even more than 80,000 ML/d!

Posted in caring for our planet, environmental flows, Murray-Darling Basin, sustainable natural resources management, water issues, water supply, waterways, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , ,

Healthy flood flows for River Murray

Another day at the office! On Friday I travelled 3 hours to Loxton in the South Australian Riverland, to reach some of my environmental watering monitoring sites by boat. In September, they were inaccessible by vehicle due to heavy local rains, and now they are inaccessible due to rising river levels.

Flows into South Australia are currently 48,500 ML/d (9 times higher than regulated flows for this time of year) and expected to rise to at least 60,000 ML/d by November and maybe even higher by December. These flows will give a much-needed drink to the floodplains and wetlands which have not been flooded since the 2011-2012 flood peaks. The floodplains have benefited from above average rain in September, so the flood timing is excellent to continue to improve soil moisture stores ahead of the hot summer months.

Environmental watering projects have been maintaining red gum and black box seedlings which germinated in those floods, and watered seedlings are now above head height.  The coming flood will add significantly to their chances of survival to reproductive age. The flood is also a timely gift from Nature to  continue the process of recovery from the damage caused by the Millenium drought, for a healthier river ecosystem.

Posted in caring for our planet, ecosystem services, environmental flows, eucalypts, Murray-Darling Basin, native vegetation, regeneration, river red gums, sustainable natural resources management, waterways | Tagged , , , , , ,

Sharing environmental watering success!

Beautiful Banrock Station was the location for an inspiring and positive meeting this week, the Nature Foundation SA Water For Nature Exchange. A group of wetland managers, NGO staff, agency staff, researchers and landholders tried not to be distracted by the magnetic view over the vibrant Banrock wetlands, while sharing information about how lessons learned on how environmental water is being delivered to many wetland sites in the South Australian River Murray Valley.

After the formal presentations, the group visited beautiful Riversleigh Lagoon just downstream of Weir & Lock No 2, to view the impressive environmental response to filling of the dry wetland in January 2016, with a top-up in May-June. This left the wetland still half-full this spring, and it is now filling naturally as a result of river levels being raised by water managers to increase the beneficial effect of currently rising flood flows. Hosts John & Bronwyn Burford proudly shared their story, of the concerns which led to them seeking environmental water, and the physical work they and their son Kristian did to get the first pumps in place last January. The waterbirds and frogs returned immediately, following the water into the wetland. After nine months, the stressed mature red gums and black box are slowly recovering, and the majestic ancient red gums lining the western cliff edge of the lagoon are promising a bumper flowering season in coming summer months.

Next day it was the turn of Roger and Raelene Schmitke and their grandson Luke Frost to show off the results from their watering efforts at Ramco River Terrace and near the Waikerie Ferry. Visitors were visibly impressed to hear just how many hours of physical effort has been involved, including the invaluable contributions of the Waikerie Mens’ Shed, repairing and maintaining irrigation equipment and helping to shift sprinklers to new sites. They stood at a photopoint where the background marker trees have almost disappeared behind the forest of strongly growing saplings, now more than 2 metres tall.

Liz and Clint Frankel were our hosts for tours of the Yarra Creek wetland, with Clint ferrying visitors across the river and guiding walks around the Yarra Creek watering site. Waikerie Rotary Club prepared a delicious lunch, and Regina gave a presentation how to access the frog-spotter app, so that we can all contribute to frog data, all in the beautiful setting of Liz & Clint’s art studio with its theme of sustainable river management, and looking out across the river valley. Liz & Clint, as well as landholder Kym Taylor, have put in a major effort to deliver and top up fuel in the pumps for three months in order to water a series of cascading lignum swamps through the summer. The current flood has now risen to meet the level of the watered swamps, so the whole floodplain complex will receive water within 12 months.

It is the passionate volunteers who make these environmental watering projects happen, taking care of the logistics of setting up and moving pumps, hoses and sprinklers, and keeping fuel up to the pumps — people like John, Bronwyn & Christian Burford at Riversleigh, Roger & Raelene Schmitke, Luke Frost and the Waikerie Mens’ Shed at Ramco and Waikerie Ferry, and Liz & Clint Frankel and Kym Taylor at Yarra Creek. All of these people have been nominated as Water For Nature Champions for 2016, the second year of these awards.

This  Water For Nature Exchange was an amazingly positive meeting, covering two days with everyone enjoying themselves outdoors in the wetlands, exchanging stories and networking madly! Even the weather cooperated, after weeks of storms and rain. It was one of those events to lift the spirits of everyone who cares about the health of the River Murray!

Posted in caring for our planet, community engagement, ecosystem services, environmental flows, eucalypts, Murray-Darling Basin, native vegetation, regeneration, river red gums, sustainable natural resources management, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Black box trees in glorious flower!

Black box trees flower mostly in summer, right? Wrong!! At least this year, for the first time since the start of monitoring black box in 2004, the majority of trees are in full glorious flower in winter!

The working hypothesis was that the majority of black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) flowered annually in summer, timed to make the most of soil moisture after floods which naturally occurred in late spring-early summer every 2-3 years. The minority which flowered in winter appeared to be geared to moisture supplied by winter rains.

black box flowers berri floodplain jun2016 sm

Black box trees grow at higher elevations on Murray-Darling floodplains and suffered severe die-back and death during the Millenium drought 2000-2010. They have been recovering since the life-giving floods of 2010-2012. Mass growth of black box seedlings is being nurtured with environmental water at several sites in the South Australian Riverland. Nature Foundation SA’s Water For Nature program has identified sustaining the seedlings as a priority, since the last major regeneration event to survive in significant numbers followed the 1955-56 floods.

Whatever the reason for the current spectacular flowering season, whether it is a return to ‘normal’ after years of drought, or the effect of unusually high local rainfall in January and May, this means that there will be mass seed available in 12 months’ time, when the ripe fruit open and drop their seed. That will be a key time to monitor soil moisture, and to add environmental water if needed to encourage fresh germination of black box to fill in the gaps in this community, currently dominated by aging stressed trees with pockets of 5 year old seedlings.

The dense clusters of cream flowers and healthy silver-green foliage indicate trees on the road to recovery, with dense pockets of thriving black box seedlings offering hope for the future. Environmental water used at these locations is bringing community benefits in improved amenity and landscapes on riverfronts to attract visitors, with benefits for tourism businesses and local traders.

black box flowering cfp Area 5 jun2016

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