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article imageOp-Ed: Australia’s Big Drought hits lethal levels, not much being done

By Paul Wallis     Sep 15, 2019 in Environment
Sydney - If there is one single Australian climate condition which is utterly predictable, it’s drought. A drought per decade is pretty normal. The massive lack of effort by government to manage water needs, however, is getting on people’s nerves.
The current drought is the worst anyone’s ever seen. It is truly murderous, to farmers, crops and animals. There have been big droughts before, but not on this scale, and not for as long. The first indicators of a big, dangerous drought happened a few years ago; now it’s nationwide.
The human side of the problem is just as bad. There are kids in the outback who are really suffering. The colour green is barely visible on dusty farms, dried up waterholes, and they have to help their parents in the meanest drought in history.
One of the current theories, and current predictions for this drought is that warming over Antarctica is interrupting normal weather patterns, and making it worse and likely to last longer.
To add a real insult to this unholy situation, Australia’s bizarre, convoluted “water rights” issues are making access to water difficult. Ownership of water rights is a real market commodity, and allegations of cheating and blocking downstream flows are now routine.
Big droughts are now a global condition. Every continent on Earth is experiencing them. The difference in Australia is that we’re used to them, and we’re still not managing them well at all.
Effects of the drought so far
• The effects of this monster drought are visible enough for even a politician:
• Severe impacts on grain crops
• Graziers hand feeding their livestock
• People in the agricultural sector being pushed to the brink, then over it
• Food prices are always hit hard by droughts
• Land degradation as priceless topsoil is basically turned into dust that blows away
• Some towns are literally running out of water. Dubbo, a major inland town, is likely to run out in a few weeks, just in time for the Australian summer.
• Dry conditions promote bushfires, and we’ve already seen a virtual plague of huge fires up north.
What’s being done? Nothing at all.
Like all Western countries, Australian management of the basics is so blasé it’s obscene. Food, water… Who needs them? Another press release will solve everything. There’s a cliché for every occasion, and droughts now have a virtual library of them, adding up to very little in the way of solving problems on any level.
For example:
• Actual volumes of water supply are pretty stagnant. What falls from the sky is pretty much the whole story, apart from some desalination plants.
• Our water storage is archaic. We have dams out under the sun, evaporating away furiously, losing so much water per year. There’s no excuse for that, because endless water supply studies have been saying for years that covered or underground storage is much better.
• We don’t harvest water from floods, cyclones, monsoons, heavy downpours, etc. There’s some weird ideological basis for this, probably “cost”, rather ironic, given that even small droughts cost us billions. (The infrastructure required would need to be extensive and somewhat expensive, but so what? We can afford it, and we do need it.)
• Land clearance is disrupting drainage. Australia is one of the most reckless, and may I add with disgust, irresponsible nations on Earth in this regard. Australian soil can be anything from great black soil to sandy bedrock, but most bush soil is very thin. It takes decades to accumulate. Clearing the land naturally affects drainage into local water tables, directly affecting wells and local aquifers for water extraction.
Dumb as it gets
There is something almost entirely unbelievable in that the driest inhabited country on Earth would simply sit around waiting for rain. We do know better. We have billions of dollars at stake in agriculture. The entire economy takes a hit every time a drought happens, and we do nothing?
We’re expecting our population to increase fairly dramatically in the next 30 years. In the same breath, we can’t even manage basic essential infrastructure for this population?
One of the major bitching issues for the do-nothing brigade has been water set aside for“ environmental flow”, which is water allocated for rivers to feed important sites like wetlands. This flow is perfectly natural, and wasn’t even an issue until water rights became commodities.
This absurd logic is totally indefensible, and it’s now an article of faith for the markets. The markets tend to discount, or in this case, simply ignore, physical realities. It’s not a good look for the future of water management in Australia.
What needs doing? Pretty much everything.
The problem with Australian water is a lack of intelligence. Rodents and birds know water is important, but our politicians have been almost comatose on the subject since Federation.
We obviously need a national water infrastructure strategy, with good solid capacity to harvest and store water in the good years. We also need water extraction technologies to harvest waste water from any available source, including green waste, etc.
Our leaky mains and ancient dams must be upgraded. If added water demand arrives in the form of a bigger population, we won’t be able to deliver the water required. We need 21st century water supplies, with guaranteed river flows, and just plain common sense in place about making sure we can meet all critical needs.
Politics vs reality? We don’t have to put up with that.
Why should people literally go thirsty because some damn well-insulated politicians can’t be bothered doing the basics? It’s too easy for political imbecilities to intrude on essentials. We need a Thou Shalt Properly Manage The Water in place somewhere to deal with this mess.
In is intolerable that in the richest per capita country in the world, we can’t even get the taps to run. What are we paying taxes for, entertainment? Service cutbacks have been a total dog’s breakfast, not enough people, and of course, that other Western tradition, not listening to experts, (for decades!) has done the rest.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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