Wednesday, 22 April 2009

So, when SHOULD we panic??

On Easter Saturday we went out with some friends for a paddle in our kayaks. We were going to go for a jaunt down the Murray, but alas the blue-green algae put paid to that trip.

Our back up plan was to go for a paddle on Lake Buffalo. We came here for fishing / a picnic between Christmas and New Year, and it was very pleasant. The upper reaches of the lake are far from the madding speedboats, and have pretty inlets to explore.

Doesn't it look pretty?

Well, yes and no - you would think it was lovely - snaking river, lush green banks, hills in the distance, but the scene shocked, horrified and, frankly, scared me more than a bit.

You see, we were here between Christmas and New Year, and the scene was very different. You can see where Jerry is standing in the left photo - 3 months ago his ankles would have been in the water. None of the bright green would be visible - it would all be under water. It's hard to tell from a photo but we estimated that was a drop of at least 8 meters in the water level. And to give you an idea of scale it took us about 5 minutes to drive to this part of the lake from the other end. That's A LOT of water that's gone.

A quick check of the water company site shows that since we visited the lake has gone from nearly 100% capacity to just over 30% - IN 3 MONTHS.

A quick tour around some other regional dams for our area shows:
  • Lake Buffalo - 65% EMPTY
  • Lake William Hovel - 64% EMPTY
  • Hume - 98% EMPTY
  • Dartmouth - 80% EMPTY
The numbers for Hume and Dartmouth are pretty scary when you realise that
"Hume Dam is the major operating storage of the River Murray system. The storage regulates the River Murray, and re-regulates water discharged from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme.

Releases from Hume Dam and downstream tributary streams supply irrigation, domestic and stock and urban demands to Victoria and New South Wales, and provide about one-third of South Australia's entitlement. In very dry years, releases are made specifically for South Australian requirements and are supplemented by transfers from Dartmouth Dam."

So it's a major water supply for hundreds of towns, hundreds and thousands of people, parts of 3 states not to mention farmers and other agricultural industries in the area. And lets not forget that the Murray River is one of our largest and most important rivers. The fact that a huge tract of the Murray is effectively closed due to blue-green algae barely rates a mention in the news - it should be a front page national scandal. So should the fact that there isn't enough water to keep the river flowing and healthy.

And yet on the radio / news / in the papers we're told not to panic, and many of the major towns in the area are on stage 1 restrictions (or even no restrictions) - and they are still building new housing estates in the region to house more people. Oh, and lets not forget they're building a pipeline from our region to take water to Melbourne. Perhaps it's time to reconsider extending this up to QLD to take away some of their excess water?!

Surely it's time we all got serious about water? If it's not time to panic now (albeit a productive kind of panic that leads to useful action), when will it be?


Anonymous said...

QLD has had hard and major restrictions for a long time.... Qlders now can decide if we keep at the same restrictions that we've been having or loosening them. Most are no used to not wanting to waste water and want to stay on restrictions.....


Margo said...

Hi Chezza,

It's feast of famine up there isn't it - from restrictions to flooding! But it's an interesting point about restrictions almost becoming habit - which is what we want really isn't it? Stage 1 or stage 2 behaviour becoming the norm, and not 'restrictions'?

Kelly the City Mouse said...

Very poignant post. You certainly know my own depressing experience at the Murray Mouth and for anyone to say there is no need to panic, they clearly haven't stood six feet beneath a boat dock, yet on dry land.

They really need to maintain some of the harshest watering restrictions during the colder months, and do this for a couple years. I think the trend is to relax during winter, but that's an even better time to restrict as gardens get naturally green from winter rains, so people will mind the restrictions less, and the reservoires will refill naturally.

Then they should try to make friends with Hawaii and Washington states and get them to ship us water lol.

I hope this week's weather is handily topping up all your tanks!

Anonymous said...

Definately time to panic! But the sad thing is I think most people won't panic until the water stops running out of their taps. People are so detached from nature these days they don't understand where their water comes from.


Margo said...

Kelly - you're so right. I really feel for those further down the river in SA. It really is a national scandal.

Tricia - sadly I think you're right....water comes from a tap, right? It will never run out.......

Margo said...

oh PS yesterday we had 18mm rain - that's the most rain in 1 day since 13th December last year

Linda said...

I'm trying to remember what was happening then. I think they drained Lake Mulwala. I don't think they were letting the Hume out, and relied on the Buffalo and Lake William Hovell possibly. Then all of a sudden the Hume was let out from nothing to the top of the bank. During winter and spring the Murray upstream of the Hume was high. A bit vague but I commented on anything I saw on my blog.

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