Murray river level critical

I’ve been covering the situation of Australia’s Murray Darling river system on a few occasions this year, particularly in relation to our government’s plan to drain wetlands and more recently; the dubious honor of having the Murray-Darling listed as one of the 10 rivers most at risk globally.

The Murray-Darling system is huge – spanning thousands of kilometers. Much of Australia’s population is dependent on it in some way. We are very much reliant on it here in South Australia as it’s the only major river in our arid state.

Our Prime Minister, John Howard, announced today that irrigation water for farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin will be cut off if there is no significant rain within the next 2 months. Not cut back – stopped.

This is the same Prime Minister who just a few days ago found the idea of having a bucket in the shower as being a little over the top. It was a somewhat different man today who stated:

“It’s a grim situation and there’s no point in pretending to the Australian public otherwise.” Source

This also the same person who is resistant to committing to carbon emission targets because it might “hurt our economy”.

If you’re an Australian, you’d probably have a good idea of the terrible effects this water shutoff will have on farmers who have already had a tough run. Family breakdowns, depression and suicide in farming families is hitting epidemic stages.

There’s no point blaming farmers for the problems, as consumers, it’s a responsibility and outcome we all must shoulder. This is a result of a consistent short term view of “hurting the economy” and demanding more from our land than it can give. The conservation measures suddenly being introduced may be a case of too little, too late.

It’s not as though the fragility of the Murray is something that’s suddenly happened; I remember hearing adults talk about salinity issues in the river when I was a kid 30 years ago. While a rugged land, the ecosystem of Australia is very delicate.

el Nino’s farewell is touted to bring much anticipated rains during our winter and spring this year – but we are assuming a new climate due to global warming and perhaps the old rules will not apply any more.

It’s so dry here at the moment and I really do hope it rains very soon; but I also hope that if it does we don’t forget what the current situation has attempted to teach us. It may be the final tap on the shoulder we get.

Read more on the drought in the latest report from the Murray Darling Basin Commission (PDF)