Clearing the land of vegetation for agriculture can often mean salty landscapes and salt lakes as well as salty ground water that flows into the River Murray. The felling of billions of trees (approximately 15 billion) to make room for the farming in the Murray-Darling Basin, which has led to economic growth and national prosperity, has caused, in just 150 years, a salinity crisis.
It is true that salt is a natural feature of the Murray-Darling Basin’s landscapes and rivers as it is derived from ancient ocean sediments, the weathering of rocks and deposition by rainfall over millions of years. However, human activities such as irrigation development and land clearing often exacerbate salt mobilisation, causing it to concentrate in certain parts of the landscape and rivers. Continue reading →
When I was working in the Senate as a policy/political advisor prior to 2006 I realised that one of the crucial aspects of the management of the River Murray in South Australia was the salt interception schemes (SIS) with their associated disposal basins.
The current salt management in the Murray-Darling Basin aims to intercept the saline groundwater before it enters the River Murray, and then dispose of, or rather store, the salty water in a basin. The water then slowly evaporates, concentrating the salt in the basin, or gradually leaking it back into the groundwater systems.
There are 3 SIS’s in South Australia namely, Bookpurnong (near Loxton) with its Noora Disposal basin, Woolpunda (between Waikerie and Barmera), and Waikerie with its Stockyard Plain disposal basin. These are part of the Riverland Salt Disposal Management Plan.
In 2004/5 I visited Stockyard Plain, which is a broad, low-lying area, that is located 15 km southwest of Waikerie:
The two primary reasons for the continual flow of the saline groundwater into the River Murray are the clearance of native plants and drainage from irrigation. The latter, in adding water to salty groundwater aquifers, contributes to the elevation of salinity in the River Murray. Continue reading →
Towards the end of the Millenium Drought (1997-2009) we visited the Tolderol Game Reserve, which on the northern shore of Lake Alexandrina and is east of Pt Sturt. We wanted to see what had happened to this migratory bird sanctuary as a result of this decade long drought. This was more than a standard dry time which are the settings of the state and government’s drought policy responds to: ie., –immediate drought relief measures for people on the land who have been suffering with the reality of a dry period.
The various shallow basins in this game reserve are linked by connecting channels and levee banks, thereby enabling the manipulation of water levels to create rich foraging habitat for migratory wader birds.
We visited the reserve in 2009, and the shallow basins and channels in this wetland were bone dry. No birds were to be seen. It was a silent landscape. No water could be seen. It was a desert landscape.
During the Millennium Drought I did some photography around the edge of the shallow freshwater Lake Alexandrina, including the the seaside towns of Clayton and Milang. At the time, given the absence of sufficient flows dredging was undertaken to keep the Murray Mouth open and to ensure salt and other pollutants could be flushed out of the river system.
With minimum to no flows in the River Murray during the drought, the lake was drying out, as can be seen in these photos made of the foreshore of the lake at Milang:
It was a sad sight seeing a lake dry up. I understand that it was much worse at Lake Albert as water had to be pumped into the lake to mimimize the extent of the ex[posed acid sulfate soils.
The history of the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin has been one where the focus has been on maintaining sufficient flows to maintain regulated water levels, water allocations for irrigators, and sufficient quality to meet irrigations and drinking-water requirements. Continue reading →
It is early days: the photographers are still to be selected; no exhibition venues have been selected; no grants have been applied for; and no curators selected. It is envisaged that the exhibitions and the associated website would act as a hub for conversations about art, history and the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin. One possibility for the first exhibition is 6 photographers responding to 6 images from the Godson Collection.
Whilst the project gets off the ground I have decided to kick things off by going back through my archives to look at the images that I’ve made of the River Murray. This is Pt Sturt.