View Full Version : Australia drought gets worse.

Glenn 50
08-31-2008, 02:56 AM
'Big Dry' turns farms into deserts

By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Australia

In the once-lush fields of South Australia, on land that borders the state's world famous Lower Lakes, farmer Nigel Treloar rounds up the herd with the help of his off-road motorbike.

It is one of the few things that has got easier as a result of Australia's worst drought in 100 years.

That is because he used to have 800 cows and now he only milks 250. There is not enough irrigation water from the nearby lakes to sustain a bigger herd.

Nigel took me to nearby Lake Albert, to what used to be a vast expanse of water. But now its waters have receded and much of it resembles a moonscape.

The pump and pipeline that once irrigated his land now lie in the open-air rather than underwater. He has been chasing the retreating water and has been losing the race.

"We'd be up to our waist in water here and it would be navigable," Nigel told me, after we had walked out 100 metres from what used to be the shoreline.

"You could come out here with boats. All the fishermen would be up and down with their fishing gear and pulling in the catch."

"But this is the middle of winter and it looks like a desert."

There are puddles of water but they are brown-tinged and unwelcoming. The cows will not drink it. So high is the salt content that it stings and burns their mouths.

'Environmental collapse'

The Lower Lakes lie at the end of the Murray-Darling basin, and are world famous for their ecosystem, with their long-neck turtles and pelicans.

The area was popularised by the 1970s film, Storm Boy, and supports the world's largest breeding colony of Australian Pelicans.

But for how much longer?

I managed to walk out to an island in Lake Albert where the pelicans have been breeding for centuries. Now their nests lie deserted, because there is no water left to protect them - and foxes are on the prowl.

"This area is on the very brink of environmental collapse," said Nigel's wife, Melanie. "You only have to look around to see that."

"You see the lack of birds and the lack of life. You smell it. You can smell the water. If you walk out into the lake bed you can burn your feet because of the acid sulphates."

"It's very real and it's happening right in front of us."

In recent years, the number of farms in the area has dropped from 55 to just 10.

Herd sold off

Brad Fischer is a third generation farmer whose family has recently sold off its entire, award-winning dairy herd.

"To see my parents on the day that the animals left… All they could see was everything that we've worked for for 30 years going down the track. It's also my future going down the track."

"We could have held on, but we did it for the benefit of the cows. We just didn't want to put them through it. The cows spent more time dealing with the salt in the water than producing milk."

The Big Dry - Australia's worst drought in 100 years - is only part of the problem. The decades-long mismanagement of the Murray-Darling River basin has exacerbated the dry conditions.

The options we have shrink by the week because there's less water in the system. Look, things are really grim

Professor Tim Flannery

The water in the basin, which irrigates Australia's food bowl, has been over-allocated.

Farmers all along the Murray-Darling have purchased and were promised water allocations that the river system simply can no longer sustain.

A 20% reduction in rainfall leads to a 70% reduction in stream flow.

Since the Murray-Darling runs through four states - New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia - each one has fought hard for its share of the water, often at the expense of the needs of neighbouring states.

Naked self-interest has often reigned. It was not until 2007 that the Howard government decided to take national charge of the river system.

"It's been a disaster," according to the global warming activist and best-selling author, Professor Tim Flannery.

"We managed to unify the railways shortly after federation but it's taken us a century to do anything about water. And it's still extremely difficult because the water in those river systems is over-allocated, it's a 130% allocation, and that was in a good year.

"So when we're facing a really serious water deficit, there just isn't any water any more."

Really grim

Early in August, Water Minister Penny Wong said that the lower lakes were beyond salvation, a statement that enraged farmers and environmentalists.

Stung by criticism that the government was not doing enough to save the lakes, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has since decided to beef up a buyback scheme, the aim of which is to purchase water allocated to irrigators further up stream.

A pipeline to bring water from further up the Murray is also planned. But it will not be built for a further two years.

Though an optimist by nature, Tim Flannery paints a bleak picture.

"We are now looking at a situation where we could either have an Aral sea or a series of acid lakes. The options we have shrink by the week because there's less water in the system. Look, things are really grim."

08-31-2008, 03:35 AM
Looks to me like the BBC reporting what they want to see rather than what is
there .
I could only find charts for Eastern Australia . If I find total charts for Australia
I will post them.


09-01-2008, 08:12 AM
You might be right Ross. I have a BIL who farms near Lismore, just south of Brisbane, and he says he's got problems getting his crop in because it is too wet!

09-03-2008, 06:46 AM
Rains raise hope for lower lakes
Pia Akerman | August 26, 2008

AT last, some good news from the Murray's threatened lower lakes in South Australia.

Better-than-average winter rains over the past six weeks have given hope there is still time to avert the ecological disaster looming if freshwater from upstream does not reach the lakes soon.

Green shoots, believed to be pennywort, are pushing through the acidic soilbeds that threaten to poison the lakes.

But the relief may be short-lived. With spring and warmer weather only weeks away, evaporation will inevitably remove the small gains in water levels.

Paul Davis is not giving up just yet. From his property on Point Sturt, a finger of land jutting into Lake Alexandrina, the new greenery is a welcome sign of an ecosystem fighting back.

"The signs are there that we shouldn't give up," said Mr Davis, a curriculum adviser and former teacher. He has cheered the 170mm of rain that has fallen around the lakes since Kevin Rudd visited them in early July -- not that he's calling the Prime Minister a rainmaker.

"We've had exceptional rains in the last six weeks, which have really raised the water level by about six inches (15cm)," Mr Davis said. "We're really stoked about that."

Mr Rudd yesterday again to tried assuage public anger about the delay in taking action over the Murray River, saying his Government was working "as fast and as hard" as possible to deal with the crisis. "I've said before that we'll be back and back again working on the challenges of the Murray-Darling, and this is for me a huge priority," he said.

Federal Water Minister Penny Wong said she believed the problems facing the Murray could be turned around.

Senator Wong and Mr Rudd pointed to the increased money for buying back water entitlements, announced earlier this month, and said the commonwealth had already spent $50 million buying back 37 gigalitres of water rights. But any purchased water has yet to reach the lower lakes. And the forecast is for clearer skies, with only about a 40per cent chance that rain from August, September and October will exceed the three-month median.

Justin Brookes, leader of a research group on the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth regions, said the rainfall had bought some time for decision-makers weighing up whether to open barrages and let saltwater in to cover the acid soils.

"It buys a few months," he said. "We'll probably get through at least this year and part of next year, but as soon as we start seeing evaporation exceeding those inputs, we'll see lower levels again."

Protests over lack of government action are expected again this morning at the Goolwa barrage, part of the network of barriers that keep back the sea at the river mouth.

A decision could be taken as soon as next month on whether the barrages will be opened, flooding the lakes with saltwater to stop them being destroyed by acidification of the exposed soil beds.

Despite the recent rain, Lake Alexandrina was at about 0.3m below sea level last week, compared with 0.2m above sea level at the same time last year.