Stand up and support delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin

The Healthy Rivers Roadshow has just completed 11 community meetings across the Murray-Darling Basin, from Dubbo and Broken Hill to Goolwa, Meningie and Adelaide. People with a range of interests and backgrounds came together to hear about the state of the Basin Plan and to show solidarity in standing up for a fair share of water for all communities, upstream and downstream.


The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is under threat from upstream interests trying to reduce the amount of water to be returned to keep Basin rivers healthy. Recent documentaries have exposed corruption in water compliance and large-scale theft of water, implicating the NSW government in actions to undermine and subvert the Basin Plan.

Now is the time for ordinary, everyday voters to let politicians know that they support the Plan. The key messages to deliver are that we want the Basin Plan delivered on time, in full (that means 3200 GL of water recovered to keep the rivers healthy enough to support all communities) and with proper and effective compliance with the rules and spirit of the Plan.

Malcolm Turnbull was the first Water Minister back in 2007 when the Basin Plan process started. The current Water Minister Barnaby Joyce has shown clearly that he wants to reduce the amount of water recovered and to give more water to irrigators. It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to take the lead again, and finish what he started, to ensure that the Basin Plan is effective.


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

Where have all the flowers gone?

When trying to decide how best to apply environmental water to River Murray floodplains, knowing when the dominant eucalypts flowered sets the time when ripe seeds will fall from the trees (12 months after flowering). Therefore, watering at that time of year can support germination and survival of seedlings. That has been the primary guiding principle for environmental watering projects in the Riverland since 2013, with watering timed for summer months when river red gum and black box had been observed flowering over the previous 8-10 years.

black box flowers

The flowering pattern went as expected in 2015, but everything changed in 2016, when around 70% of black box decided to flower profusely in June and again in September, as well as in December. Thanks to timely floods and rains, the trees improved in condition and increased crop volumes, with more frequent flowering and shorter production times, as well as two concurrent and opposite 2-year cycles producing seed every year on the same tree, instead of every second year previously.

The story of these surprising developments has just been published, in a paper started with my PhD supervisor, the late Keith Walker. It is included in a special journal issue commemorating Keith’s lifetime of research on River Murray ecosystems, and his large legacy of students and researchers carrying on his work to understand River Murray ecosystems.

See a copy of the paper hot off the e-press here

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

The Red Centre is not so red just now!

Red sand is in short supply in the Red Centre of Australia just now, rather colours are dominated by dense blond thickets of spinifex, golden yellow senna bushes, silvery blue bush, lilac mulla mulla and green groves of slender young desert oaks like vertical folded umbrellas. The Red Centre is rejoicing in a dense cover of healthy vegetation and young plants following a series of good rain events. Useful rains 6 weeks ago built on large rainfall events in March earlier this year and May last year. It’s a great time to visit the Red Centre!

Posted in caring for our planet, native vegetation, rainfall, regeneration, weather patterns | Tagged , ,

River Red Gum Communities in the Northern & Yorke Region are suffering from decline and lack of regeneration

Surveys of the condition of river red gum communities in the mid-north of South Australia from 2008 to 2016 have returned alarming findings. Not only are the mature trees declining in condition, but there is no regeneration occurring to replace them and the age gap in red gum populations is widening. Without active intervention, the Northern & Yorke region could lose its classic red gum landscapes in 30-50 years. The results of these surveys, carried out for the Northern & Yorke Natural Resources Management Board, were presented at the Goyder Water Forum in July 2017.

Severe die-back was noted in river red gum communities in the Northern & Yorke region in 2005. From 2008-2015, over 60 sites were monitored annually in Broughton, Mambray Coast, Wakefield and Willochra catchments. The overall cause of die-back was found to be reduced water availability, with declining regional rainfall and increased extraction from catchments.

From stressed condition in 2008, red gum communities partially recovered in 2010-11, following good rainfall. Site condition deteriorated again in 2012-13, coupled with heavy insect attack. Levels of insect attack in 2014-15 were insignificant, and canopy condition improved as epicormic growth converted to normal tip growth. Recovery continued in mature trees in 2015, but with lower scores than 2008. All catchments had trees with dual crops, indicating healthy seed volumes available. 

However, no regeneration of red gum seedlings has been found at any monitoring sites from 2008 to 2016. The primary factors preventing regeneration appear to be competition from dense spring weeds in riparian zones and from early annual growth of reedbeds in watercourses due to declining flows.

Active intervention will be required to sustain red gum communities in the long term. Otherwise, there is an increasing risk that aging and water-stressed river red gum communities will gradually disappear from regional landscapes. A proposal presented to the NRM Board in 2016 recommended a target of 20% multi-layered native vegetation in regional landscapes, and a citizen science program is being developed in 2017 to encourage landholders and community groups to promote germination and survival of red gum seedlings.

The presentation can be viewed here:


incoming 321



Posted in caring for our planet, eucalypts, native vegetation, recruitment, sustainable natural resources management, water issues | Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

IMG_9873 (2)

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 , , , ,