Flooding in a drought

By Geoff Adams

I am usually of a similar view to John Pettigrew on environmental issues, so I was surprised and disappointed to read his letter in Country News ('Stop the environmental spin cycle’, December 24), which contains several contradictory and confusing points.

I would class myself as an environmentalist, meaning by this that I believe we should try to live in harmony with the environment.

We built dams so that water could be used for human — mainly agricultural — purposes rather than letting it simply flow into the sea.

Having done this, we reached a stage where we were over-using the water, destroying wetlands and creating salinity problems.

Hence I supported the concept of taking some water back from irrigation use to maintain the health of the environment.

But what is the natural environment?

Australia has droughts and floods: ‘where creeks run dry or 10 feet high – it’s either drought or plenty’.

So, we should not be running the rivers “at full bank levels” in summer (of which John seems to approve) and then claiming that this is environmental.

We should not be trying to keep wetlands wet in a drought and claiming it is environmental — Australia’s wetlands evolved to withstand drought.

John says “without environmental flows the Goulburn River would be little more than a channel supplying high summer flows to service downstream irrigation requirements” — and this totally misses the point.

It is exactly these high summer flows that are criticised on all sides, precisely because they are unnatural and hence not environmental. To what ‘environmental flows’ is John referring besides these high summer flows?

As an environmentalist, I’m appalled that many gigalitres of water are being flushed down the Murray in order to maintain a shallow puddle (Lake Alexandrina). But yet, as an environmentalist, I’m seen as partially responsible for that activity!

According to Jared Diamond, the folk on Easter Island watched the felling of the last tree for religious purposes, knowing full well that it spelled the end of their civilisation.

I fear we shall see the last hundreds of gigalitres of water being flushed uselessly down the Murray, knowing full well that it spells the end of our southern basin agriculture, and equally shall do nothing about it.

Dr David Woodhouse

Katandra walnut farmer