Ecology And Environment

Drought mitigation strategies for Southern Australia



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South Australia, which is the driest state in the driest country in the world has been in the grip of a terrible drought for many years, and this drought has had many disastrous effects on the environment, agriculture, industry and the general economy of the state. As a result of this drought, a number of drought mitigating strategies have been adopted, and the country is continuing to adopt more.

Strategies in the home

There are severe water restrictions in this state, and they have been in place for several years. As a result it is not possible to water gardens as was once done, and the people have all had to find ways to adapt. Sprinkler systems are illegal, and watering can only be done with drippers or with a trigger hose, and then only at severely restricted times. It is illegal to water a lawn or to wash a car with a hose.

The most obvious way most households have adapted to constant water restrictions is by installing water tanks to catch and store whatever rain falls. Another is to use grey water (such as shower water, water from washing clothes, and so on) for watering the garden. The government has introduced subsidies and grants to encourage people to install large water tanks and plumb them into the house. We have also all become much more water-wise and conscious of how we use and recycle water in the home. It is a long time since anyone here has taken a twenty minute shower! Two minutes is much more common, and everyone turns the tap off while cleaning their teeth.

Strategies for securing water supplies

Much of the water comes from a large river (The Murray), which is drying up because of the drought, and also because of mismanagement and over-allocation of water that has returned to bite us. Part of the strategy that has been adopted to secure Adelaide's water supply, and that of other towns, has been to build weirs across the river at several locations to ensure the water level is above the pumps that pump water to the city reservoirs. Another that will soon come on line is a water desalination plant that will supply fresh water from the sea. Unfortunately, this strategy is not without environmental consequences.

Strategies for agriculture

Australia's major food bowl is watered by the Murray-Darling system that is now in the grip of the worst drought in memory, and water allocations for irrigators along the river system have been drastically cut. In some cases crops such as fruit trees that have been grown for decades are now dying and being pulled up through lack of water. More should be done, since irrigators are still allowed to irrigate crops that were previously grown without irrigation (such as grapes and olives), although their water allocation has been severely cut. In other states, governments still allow farmers to take enormous quantities of water out of the river (which are therefore lost to downstream communities) in order to grow crops such as rice and cotton, which should not be grown in the driest country on earth, and which essentially steals the water from the reservoirs and rivers downstream. The multinational companies owning these gigantic rice and cotton farms simply do not care.

National strategies

Unfortunately this is a pipedream, but there does need to be a national strategy because tension between the states is mounting. Rivers do not respect state borders and states upstream, in trying to save their own river communities and secure their own water supplies, take so much water that communities downstream in the next state are doomed. The Federal Government must take control, because the rivers belong to the country, and not to individual states. There needs to be a national water strategy.

There have also been pipedreams about building huge pipelines to move water from the northern states, which are tropical and have monsoons (and recently Queensland was almost entirely flooded) to the southern dry areas. This may be a possibility in the future. Desalination plants are also being built in coastal areas, but this is not an option for inland towns. To my knowledge, little work has been done here on cloud seeding, but this should be investigated (not that there are many clouds in the sky here to seed).

Another pipedream is that the government should seriously consider limiting or reducing the population in severely drought-stricken areas. Unfortunately, both state and federal governments are totally focused on the economy, and seem to have forgotten that there is not enough water for the people now.

Drought has many serious effects on the environment, on agriculture, fishing, tourism, gardening and on the psychological well-being of people. There are many drought mitigating strategies, but it still comes down to the amount rainfall, and how much water humans are using. The state must ensure that the carrying capacity of the land is taken into account.

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More about this author: Anne StClair

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