Making the case for environmental water

I took ABC journalist Tom Iggulden out into the field at Ramco Lagoon near Waikerie to demonstrate the process of returning water to the environment in the Murray Valley. Tom reported this story on AM on Friday, June 30, 2017 08:19:00

The story can be heard here:

Politics drowns out science as Murray-Darling water allocation remains under dispute

Along the entire Murray Darling system sit dozens of environmental projects underway, fed by water released under the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Scientists say that more time and more water are needed to reap the benefits of the new focus on the river system’s environmental health, but insist that without a commitment to improving the basin’s ecology, the industries that use the system will collapse.

Dr Anne Jensen, environmental consultant
Ian Hunter, South Australian Water Minister
Tony Pasin, Liberal Federal Member for Barker

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

Where has the $10 billion gone to save the Murray-Darling Basin?

In 2006, Prime Minister John Howard and Water Minister Malcolm Turnbull put $10B on the table to fix the water problems in the Murray-Darling Basin. This included $6B for improved efficiency of water delivery (closing open channels, etc), $3B for water buy-backs from willing sellers, $0.5B for improved water forecasting by the Bureau of Meteorology, and $0.5 B for the establishment of the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

Where has all the money gone? has it been spent wisely and effectively? Watch Four Corners on Monday night! They will be asking who has benefited from these billions. among their stories will be that of Kate McBride and her family, who lived through 9 months of no flow in the Lower Darling in 2015-16, while upstream irrigators had full allocations.

The draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan is under attack, and flows to the Lower Murray are not yet secure. All downstream communities, whether on the Darling River or the Murray River, need to be concerned and get involved in lobbying for a sound Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

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Posted in caring for our planet, ecosystem services, environmental flows, floods, Murray-Darling Basin, policy, regeneration, sustainable natural resources management, water issues, water supply | Tagged , , , , ,

Water Reform in Australia has stopped!

‘Water reform in Australia has stopped!’ Not my words, but those of Prof John Williams, founding member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, opening his keynote dinner address at the recent Goyder Institute Water Forum. He got the attention of the audience of water professionals in an instant! His audience had all been a part of the water reform agenda as far back as 1994, when the first national guidelines were agreed, and since 2004 when the National Water Initiative was signed. The Millenium drought and the crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin led to the Water Act 2007 and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, as well as the National Water Commission.

On the basis of the National Water Initiative, Australia proudly proclaimed itself a world leader in water reform, and has hosted dozens of international delegations wanting to learn from our experience, as well as taking our ‘know-how’ overseas. The National Water Commission coordinated ground-breaking work on water trading, water efficiency, improved irrigation technologies, more efficient governance and sound water planning. The existence of the water trading market saved many communities in the drought, allowing holders of annual allocations to decide not to plant annual crops but to sell their water to farmers with permanent plantings which needed to be kept alive. While there was significant bankruptcy and farm closure during the drought, many irrigators were able to adjust their operations and overall production value stayed at a similar level to pre-drought, using approximately 30% of water volume, indicating room for major efficiencies in future water use.

The National Water Commission was required to undergo assessment every two years, and publish a report card. Its final report card to the Australian Government in 2014 anticipated the next phase of reform work and called on the government to build on the good groundwork achieved by re-committing to the major work still needed to wind back over-allocation of water resources, to promote efficiency of urban water design and re-use, to include mining impacts on groundwater and to include the impacts of climate change, which is predicted to significantly reduce volumes of available water in the future. Instead, the Australian Government disbanded the National Water Commission, split its functions across several departments and disbanded the CoAG Standing Council on Agriculture and Water.

In 2006, Prime Minister John Howard and Water Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised $10 billion to fix the problems with water-sharing across Australia, and particularly for the Murray-Darling Basin. In 2017, the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan is now under attack by upstream irrigators arguing that they will suffer unacceptable pain and hardship if they have to return water to keep the Basin rivers healthy enough to support all communities. The national Water Minister is now also the Agriculture Minister (and the Deputy Prime Minister) and he is supporting the irrigators in his local community over downstream communities. The former Water Minister is now the Prime Minister and says the Deputy Prime Minister is the best man to make the critical decisions around how water is shared in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is supposed to be independent but has been overwhelmed by critical submissions from upstream irrigation communities claiming dire consequences if they have to give up any water.

The independent voice of the National Water Commission has been closed down. John William’s solution is that we need to fund a new independent body which can oversee a decadal water plan for Australia, with funding for strategic research to support evidence-based planning which incorporates predicted impacts of climate change. national guidelines need to be updated, recycling water for potable re-use needs to be on the agenda and groundwater needs to be managed as an integral and inter-linked part of available water sources.

Nature delivered flood flows in 2010-12 which kick-started recovery, and another brief flood in 2016 has reinforced the growth response. However, there is a very long way to go to repair the lasting damage of the Millenium drought inflicted on river ecosystems which had greatly reduced resilience due to five decades of water extraction. The Murray-Darling Basin still needs water recovery as outlined in the Basin Plan, it is not ‘doing alright’, it is still in recovery mode and needs up to 20 years for seedlings generated by the 2010-12 floods to reach maturity and produce seeds for the next generation.


Posted in caring for our planet, climate change, Murray-Darling Basin, policy, water conservation, water issues, water supply | Tagged , , , ,

The black box sapling that didn’t get the email!

For the drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant species black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens), normally found at higher elevations and outer edges of Murray-Darling floodplains, the accepted wisdom is that young trees need to be 20-30 years old in order to produce seed. This time-span is rather daunting for ecosystem managers trying to support recruitment in black box communities to increase their rate of replacement. So my amazing find this week is good news, even if it blasts accepted theory out of the water! On the Calperum floodplain next to Ral Ral Creek anabranch, a dense sea of river red gum saplings carpets the creek banks under majestic old river red gums. In the middle of thousands of red gum saplings 2-3 m high, a single black box sapling was flowering gloriously and proudly, defying all the understood rules that it was much, much too young for such productivity!! Now I have to check for other black box saplings that didn’t get the email about when they are supposed to flower!!

Posted in black box, caring for our planet, eucalypts, Murray-Darling Basin, native vegetation, phenological cycles, recruitment, regeneration, sustainable natural resources management, waterways | Tagged , , , , ,

a thriving River Murray wetland

Happiness is a wetland drying down after a flood and providing habitat and food for more than 3000 waterbirds! Spotlit in the late afternoon light, stilts, avocets, ducks, spoonbills and herons quietly forage for their favourite foods. The numbers are easier to count when they occasionally take to the sky for a fly-past. This wetland received environmental water in summer and winter of 2016, and then was filled naturally by the flood peak in December 2016, and still persists as a shallow lagoon in March 2017. Environmental watering prior to the flood has boosted productivity and the wetland  is providing a rich food source as indicated by the large number of waterbirds present.


Posted in caring for our planet, ecosystem services, environmental flows, floods, Murray-Darling Basin, sustainable natural resources management, waterbirds | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

New life on Murray floodplains

Six weeks on from the recent flood in the South Australian Murray Valley, floodplains and wetlands are in the best condition seen since the floods of 1990-93. The dominant response is vibrant, vigorous growth of groundcovers, shrubs and trees.

A series of events have contributed to the current good condition of floodplain vegetation communities. The 2010-12 floods relieved the extreme stress of the Millenium drought, when millions of mature river red gums and black box trees were stressed, dying or dead.

The 2016 flood came in the nick of time, to prevent the decline of germinated seedlings and recovering canopies following the 2010-12 floods.

Rainfall played a part too, with good summer rains in 2012, 2014 and 2015, and extraordinary rains in September 2016 that were four times the average volume. With so much available moisture, all plants are concentrating on new growth, with fresh luminous green leaves showing strong recovery on eucalypts. Vigorous vertical lignum stems are bending under their own weight in the process of creating dense tangled lignum thickets.

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

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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