Drought proofing Australia

Drought is nothing new in Australia. Dorothea McKellar wrote about it in My Country, a poem that I, and all Australians of my generation, learned off by heart in school:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

But last night I saw something that truly shocked me. It was an aerial view of the reservoir of a small town in NSW. The reservoir was half empty, and the water was an unpleasant green.

But that was not what shocked me.

Snuggled up next to the reservoir was a huge tanker. It was pumping water into the reservoir because the town had run dry:


But that was not what shocked me.

What shocked me was the realisation that much of the precious water going into the reservoir would soon begin to evaporate. Even as it was being pumped in, it was starting to evaporate out. And all of Australia’s dams and reservoirs are like that – open to the air, the wind, the sun and the heat. Water wasted by the gigalitre.

Open reservoirs were the only way water could be stored in the past. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It would take money, a terrifying amount of money, and a political will that has not been seen since World War II, but those outdated, primitive reservoirs could be updated into underground water storage units.

It is possible. If we can build concrete swimming pools, and massive damns like the Snowy Hydro scheme, we can build concrete reservoirs for the most threatened, inland towns of Australia. Or perhaps we wouldn’t use concrete at all. Maybe we could repurpose all that plastic waste and use it to line those underground water storage reservoirs.

We could also stop giving away the life blood of our rivers to mates with deep pockets. Our food security relies on irrigation. The water for that irrigation comes from our river systems. But instead of protecting those river systems, we’ve allowed them to be plundered for cash crops like cotton:

Part of why cotton takes up so many nutrients from the soil is its extensive root system. In order for the roots to develop enough to obtain those nutrients, lots of moisture is needed, especially early on.

Could someone explain to me why cotton is being grown [by huge agribusinesses] in an arid country like Australia? Without massive irrigation, taken largely from our rivers and flood plain harvesting, cotton could not possibly survive in inland Australia. Yet it’s happening, and it’s generating huge profits for multinational businesses such as CS Agriculture Pty Ltd:

“….(which owns Cubbie Station) in Australia. Shandong Ruyi is the ultimate shareholder of this new Australian group…”

“Since CS Agriculture took control of Cubbie Station, the struggling cotton property has been transformed by a major reinvestment into the business, including upgrades of water-saving infrastructure…”


The ‘water-saving infrastructure’ includes massive damns that harvest flood plain water. I should also point out that Shandong Ruyi is a huge Chinese textile company:


Australia needs foreign investment, but as one of the most arid countries on Earth, exporting cotton via Shandong Ruyi is akin to exporting our water. In my not-so-humble opinion, that is insane. Allowing this to continue when said export is destroying land and communities in the rest of Australia is…criminal.

Every Australian needs to understand that the flood plains of a river are vitally important to the river and the land, both above and below:

‘The layered sediments of many flood plains can create important aquifers. Clay, sand, and gravel filter water as it seeps downward.’


When you harvest the water of a flood plain, you starve the river and the land. You also starve the towns that historically relied on that river for their water. One such town is Broken Hill.

Broken Hill is not some small country town with a pub and not much else. Broken Hill is a major inland centre, and it too is running out of water. It used to supplement its water from the Darling river, but the Darling is almost dead so a ‘hurry-hurry’ pipeline is being built to the Murray river:

“The Wentworth-Broken Hill pipeline will fix things for Broken Hill, which can no longer rely on the Darling for its water supply. It will also ensure secure water supply for two new mines, Perilya Mines and Hawsons Iron Project.”


Makes you wonder whether the pipeline is actually for the town or the mines…

The biggest problem with the Broken Hill pipeline, however, is that the water it takes from the Murray will impact all the communities south from there, in Victoria. Victorian communities rely on the Murray too, as does South Australia. Allowing the Darling to be destroyed up north in Queensland and northern NSW will have a knock-on effect all the way down the line, with each ‘fix’ creating problems further south.

There is one ‘fix’ I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s desalination. We built a desalination plant here in Victoria, after the Millennium Drought. That desal plant may stop Melbourne from running dry, but what of the inland?

Australia currently has six desalination plants – one for South-East Queensland, two in Western Australia near Perth, one near Sydney [NSW], one for Melbourne [Victoria] and one for Adelaide [South Australia]. All of these desalination plants are on the coast…dah…because they make fresh water out of seawater. All of the communities supplied by those desalination plants are on the coast as well.

Now imagine how much it would cost to pump water inland from those desalination plants…

All of Australia’s water problems are of our own making, and could be fixed properly, but it would take serious nation building by a succession of Federal governments. It hasn’t happened.

Now ask yourself this: if we can’t fix the problems we created, what are we going to do when climate change truly starts to bite?

Sadly, the answer to that question appears to be ‘nothing’. Successive governments have sat on their hands, denying that we’re destroying the rivers, denying that climate is changing, denying that anything needs to be done. And we, the voting public have allowed them to get away with it because we’re scared our cushy lifestyles will become a little less cushy.

I truly hope I’m no longer around when life stops being ‘cushy’ and becomes a fight for survival.


About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

30 responses to “Drought proofing Australia

  • D. Wallace Peach

    My stomach turned and shoulders tightened as I read this, Andrea. Climate change, even a few degrees will make this worse. For years, my husband and I have talked about the great risk facing civilization – running out of water. And what’s so gut-wrenching is that no government is going to take the hard, unpopular steps of change. Change has to be immediate and massive, and the truth is, it’s coming even if we stick our heads in the sand. Our only choice is whether we meet it proactively or wait to be overwhelmed.


    • acflory

      Yes. 😦 The response of some, including my own govt, to Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN is a chilling reminder of how determined the deniers are to maintain the status quo.
      The saddest thing of all is that the ones digging their heels in the most are old, powerful white men who either don’t care about their descendants, or believe their great wealth will protect their offspring no matter what the world throws at them.
      The rest of us can go hang. :/


  • Widdershins

    Water is going to be the defining element, over the next couple of decades as to who lives and who dies.


  • anne54

    I watched the 7:30 article on the complete lack of water in Murrurundi. The short-term solution for them is to truck in water. The longer term solution is to build a pipeline from a reservoir in another town. What struck me is that we are simply moving water about, using a very finite, dwindling resource. The pipeline to Broken Hill is the same concept ~ take from here, move to there, and don’t worry about the consequences.
    Like the larger issue of climate change, we need proper, global leadership on the issue, to be able to drive forward the proper solutions.


    • acflory

      Exactly! I fear all our governments are simply applying bandaid solutions because they’re too weak and fearful to make the hard decisions. That said, I suspect the hard decisions will require a restructuring of society from the ground up to be truly effective.
      We live in interesting times. 😦


  • Yvonne Hertzberger

    So many countries need a massive wake-up call. We no longer have the luxury of ignoring these issues in the interest of profit. We NEED to be willing to spend the money, to pay more taxes, and to control big corporations in the interest of preventing extinction. Make your voices heard. Educate those that don’t understand. Only collective pressure will bring about change. It WILL cost us all, but that’s just the way it is. We don’t have a choice.


    • acflory

      Yes, yes and yes! I get so angry when I see the utter bullshit [apologies] that’s passed around on the internet. Saw someone posting the same ridiculous ‘news’ on Twitter yesterday. The headline is that 500 climate scientists sent a declaration to the UN about how there is no climate crisis.
      I actually looked up the names on that list. Guess what? The very first name, Guus Berkhout, is an engineer who spent his career working for the oil and gas industry!!!!
      But the climate deniers know few will check the facts. 😦


  • DawnGillDesigns

    I’ve mentioned my visits to WA to you before, our most recent was in 2009/2010. At that point people still weren’t considering any conservation of their water – not even reducing the flush on the loos, or reusing their grey shower etc water for their lawns or car washing. And there was a lot of retic and car washing going on. Amazed and disappointed me. We are planning to come out again (this time to your side, for the 21/22 Ashes) so it’ll be interesting to compare.


    • acflory

      I don’t think WA was affected by the drought, or perhaps not as much as we were on the east coast. We’ve had dual flush toilets forever, water tanks, grey water for the garden. Things got pretty grim here by 2009 and some of us haven’t forgotten. Feels like we’re lurching from one drought to another these days.


  • flawedman

    The trouble with cotton is you can’t eat it and eventually eating will be our main concern. It’s ironic that eating was our main concern when we were Hunter Gatherers and very soon we will be Hunter gatherers again. The snag is there are a lot of us to gather and hunt so the wealthy will fortify their spoils and protect them while they can but the hungry and thirsty soon get desperate. Wealth needs a big infrastructure and that will break down as factions fight for survival hey it’s beginning to sound like the feudal system all over again . There will have to be vast numbers who die but perhaps the rats may help with the Black Death reborn.
    Hang on I better turn up the central heating and see if there is a good film on net flicks.


    • acflory

      lol – that was a pretty good post apocalyptic narrative right there. I suspect with climate change we’ll be like the people on the Titanic – the rich will suffer but escape on the lifeboats. Everybody else will either go down with the ship or cling to planks, hoping for a rescue that never comes.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Mick Canning

    Money talks. It’s the root of everything, isn’t it? Lining pockets, paying shareholders, kickbacks…otherwise these problems would get sorted.


  • bone&silver

    It is a big mess indeed 😢


  • daleleelife101.blog

    Water supply is such a multi-layered issue. And the 7.30 Report hits home for me because I come from Scone and grew up in Murrurundi, a town who has experienced water issues before. During the drought when I was a teenager only a trickle of brown water came through our taps, before there was a reservoir town water came from the river and the river ran dry. Now I live in house in a village that has no town water supply, nor any town sewerage. There are still many places like this. We are self reliant for water, we catch rainwater off the roof into 4 tanks. Others pump from the river. No-one uses more water than they have to. Even our domestic water storage requires managing, if it sits too long without aeration or flow, it becomes aneorobic or stagnant. Larger volumes are even more complex. I’m disappointed with how water rights are administered but I’m also disappointed by how so many people feel entitled to water supply without actually valuing what comes out of their taps but happily buy single-use plastic bottles of water. We can hold our politicians accountable but also need to be equally accountable ourselves, every day, not because of mandated water restrictions but because it makes sense, and one day, I believe, it will be the rule rather than exceptiinal circumstance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Yeah, our attitude towards water is all wrong. I think part of it is because in my youth, water was basically ‘free’. We paid the MMBW for sewerage, water, connections, all that infrastructure stuff, and that was it. Even now that we pay by the litre, we take it for granted. Or use it as currency. 😦


  • cagedunn

    South Australia’s desal plant has never been switched on – and what is the current dam capacity? Under 30% last I checked, and still no water restrictions.
    It’s spring, we’ll be in summer soon, and nobody’s talking about the water shortage, or about the desal plant …

    Australia is in drought. All of Australia. The average rainfall is a distant memory, the subsoil dryness is stretching deeper and deeper. Where will it end?

    Maybe if the people in cities had to drink the muddy brown stuff that comes through the taps in country towns … ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      lol – that’d cause an uproar alright! Back in the Millenium drought, I put in water tanks, as many as I could afford. Plus I re-use grey water. I’m now very aware of the value of drinking water. Why on earth are we flushing our toilets with drinking water?
      And why aren’t councils being forced to lay recycled water pipes?

      Liked by 1 person

      • cagedunn

        And why aren’t new houses fitted with greywater recycling systems for garden use?
        There are so many ‘why aren’t’ that have been around for so many years …

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          I know! Like storm water. As far as I know, it’s simply diverted away from infrastructure and allowed to pour into the sea.
          We’ve had it too easy for too long, and now all our past mistakes are coming home to roost. No wonder the kids are so angry.

          Liked by 1 person

  • Audrey Driscoll

    I think the mindset will change perforce when it does become a fight for survival. But so much damage will happen before that. As for cotton, it’s what a lot of throwaway fashion is made from, isn’t it? Either that or petroleum-based synthetics. Then there’s advertising, whipping up desire for all that stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  • robertawrites235681907

    An excellent post. It is all about greed. People want the good life now and don’t care about the future. We can change it, we have the technology, but not the political will.

    Liked by 3 people

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