CSIRO, Australia’s largest scientific research organisation, released a two-part report* last Friday on ‘water’ in the Murray-Darling Basin, a region often referred to as the food bowl of Australia. The icon within this region is the Murray River and salt levels in the river have long been considered an indication of the region’s health and the sustainability of Australian agriculture.
The report reiterates “salinity … as one of the most serious environmental issues in the Basin” and suggests that “stream salt loads” and “stream salinity” will increase. Part 1 of the report is 48 pages and Part 2 is 29 pages but there is only one graph of Murray River salinity and it was drawn in 1988, some 16 years ago. It is computer-model generated and interestingly begins in 1920 even though first recording were not made until 1938.
In my opinion it is both sad and deceitful that the CSIRO won’t show us what salinity levels really look like but instead keeps republishing a dated and misleading graph from a computer model.
Would you like to see what salt levels are really like?
Here’s a plot of yearly average stream salinity from when recordings where first made in 1938:
This graph is based on data that I recently requested and received from the Murray Darling Basin Commission.
A plot of all the daily readings for Morgan, a key site as its just upstream from the off-shoots for Adelaide’s water supply, also shows a downward trend for the last 20 years:
This data was also sourced from the Murray Darling Basin Commission and the last data point represents last Friday, 19th May 2006.
It’s good news that salt levels are falling. But no-one will acknowledge it!
A common ‘excuse’ given for the low stream salinity levels is that it’s been so dry, “It doesn’t rain so much in the Murray-Darling Basin anymore”. But hang-on, a plot of rainfall for the Murray-Darling Basin shows no recent drop-off. The last very dry year was 2002 and that wasn’t unusually dry in the scheme of things.
The graph is from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, click here.
Perhaps so much funding is dependent on the perception that salinity is a continuing problem, and so many reputations have been made on the myth, that there is almost an obligation to repeat the falsehood?
I reckon it matters that CSIRO and others keep misleading the Australian public on this issue. I reckon it matters that the federal government just announced another $500 million for the Murray River on the pretext that river salinity is a continuing problem.
* The reports are titled ‘The Shared Water Resources of the Murray-Darling Basin’ by Kirby M et al. 2006 and ‘Risks to the Shared Water Resources of the Murray-Darling Basin’ by Van Dijk, A et al 2006 published by the Murray Darling Basin Commission, Canberra and prepared by CSIRO Land and Water as part of the Water for a Healthy Country National Flagship Program.
This Sunday, Channel 9’s Sunday program is planning to feature at story on the Murray River and salinity. I’m hoping that Ross Coulthart from SUNDAY will go beyond the empty rhetoric and show that the emperor has no clothes.
So if you live in Australia, watch Channel 9 from 9am on Sunday.
I’ve written a bit about the Murray River which can be accessed online including an IPA backgrounder, click here, and something for Online Opinion more recently, click here, and for ABC Radio National’s Counterpoint with Michael Duffy, click here. I will in due course do a complete critique of the two-part CSIRO report.