After the Flood . . .

The health of the River Murray valley in South Australia is showing dramatic improvement following a very useful seasonal flood in spring-summer 2016. The flow event peaked at 94,865 ML/d at the South Australian border on 30 November 2016 and had continuous flows >40,000 ML/d for 75 days, meaning that water overflowed onto the floodplain during from mid-October to late December in South Australia. There was a long slow rise in flows, but a very rapid recession.

The wetting of the floodplain kick-started life cycles in plants, animals, birds, fish and frogs. The first signs were deafening frog calls at night and thousands of dragonflies by day. Feeding waterbirds at floodplain pools indicated the presence of macroinvertebrates and small fish to provide their food.

Nardoo waterplants wakened from dormancy in the dry clay and floated in pools like giant four-leafed clover, persisting after the water dried in lush damp pockets. As the flood receded, it left a green carpet of seedlings and a jungle of green growth in lignum bushes. Seedlings and saplings of river red gum and black box which germinated after the 2010-12 floods put on a burst of new growth, adding to the multiple shades of green across the floodplain.

Stressed mature black box trees generated clumps of healthy new leaves and burst into flower. This flood was in the nick of time, to assist recovery of stressed trees, to top up soil moisture and to sustain the growth triggered by the previous floods, continuing recovery from severe vegetation damage in the Millenium drought. The River Murray ecosystem has been given a very welcome boost!

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Diary of a Red Gum May-December 2016

The red gum in our street started 2016 with a high volume of healthy buds, but these were steadily lost in windy storms through the year. After the tree dropped its eighth branch in 12 months, in May the Council sent in the tree trimmers, who administered a serious hair cut through the middle canopy and over-hanging branches. Nearly one-third of the canopy disappeared, with its bud crop.

Challenges continued with multiple storms through winter and spring combining heavy rains and wind, with piles of debris post-storm representing significant losses of immature buds and fruit. A serious hail storm in November with hail the size of golf balls did not cause as much damage as the previous year, when hail the size of marbles stripped large amounts of foliage from the red gum.

But by late November, the tree was recovered and full of life, covered in luxuriant dense flower clusters and reverberating with the steady hum of bees. The dawn chorus was in full voice, as shrieking rainbow lorikeets drank nectar from the flowers. The ground was covered with a carpet of cream stamens and crunchy flower caps.

After a tumultuous year with continuous losses, plenty of buds survived for a profuse flowering event, with the flowers now transitioning into immature fruit which will develop seed for summer 2017.

The heavy flowering in November also provided evidence in support of the hypothesis that red gums have alternate heavy and light annual flowering volumes. This tree previously flowered profusely in November 2014, but only lightly in November 2015. The new prediction is thus for light flowering in November 2017.

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Good Christmas news for Murray-Darling Basin Plan

At the Nature Foundation SA (NFSA) Christmas drinks, SA Water Minister Ian Hunter reported excellent progress on implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, now on the C0AG agenda, with the Prime Minister taking responsibility. The upstream states are on notice to speed up their work on proposals needed to deliver promised environmental water. With all key national and state liberal politicians pledging support for returning the full 3200 GL, it looks like a good New Year for the Murray-Darling Basin!

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River Murray floodplains are flooding!

The current flood is a major gift from Nature to the South Australian River Murray valley, boosting continued recovery from massive damage in the Millennium drought and bringing boom times back to ecosystems. The rich toffee-coloured water is clear water coming from multiple Murray catchments, full of tannins from dissolved leaves, with no water flowing in from Darling catchments which would bring high loads of suspended clay and reduce water clarity.


The River Murray spills over its banks into floodplain wetlands in the Woolpunda reach

This extensive flood has spread onto upstream floodplains in the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and Macquarie catchments which had not been flooded for 20 years, and picked up unprecedented amounts of carbon. This has meant that the first flows down the rivers and into South Australia were totally depleted of oxygen due to the natural process of decomposition of huge volumes of leaves, nutrients and plant debris on floodplains. There were numerous reports of fish kills, sadly including hundreds of adult Murray cod which were trapped between two flows of de-oxygenated water in the anabranch creeks around Lake Victoria.

As the flood progresses downstream, oxygen is returning as the water flows over weirs and spreads out onto Riverland floodplains. The food chains are kicking off, with thousands of dragonflies, insects and microscopic water species, including tiny fish. Waterbirds are starting to feed in floodplain pools, with pelican fishing groups already in action.

Unfortunately, recent news reports about the flood have focussed on the early flows of low oxygen ‘black water’ and the impacts of flooding on shack areas. However, most shacks are designed to allow floods to flow underneath raised structures, and the rewards for shack-owners will come as the water levels fall and increased numbers of fish and yabbies emerge just around the Christmas holidays.

This flood is a major bonus for river health, piggy-backing on the benefits of the 2010-2012 floods and providing the ‘boom’ in the river’s boom and bust ecosystem. The peak level is slightly above the peak of the February 2011 flood, and will boost continued growth of millions of red gum and black box seedlings generated back then. The clear Murray water allows light to penetrate up 10 times further into the water column than in Darling water, boosting photosynthesis. Watch for an explosion of life in coming weeks, as fish, frogs, yabbies, tortoises and plants respond to ideal conditions. This is the time to visit the River Murray and see it burst into life!


lush new growth on river red gums is lime green, highlighting the dramatic environmental response to the life-giving flows

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

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 , , , , ,