There is no doubt that agricultural expansion not only in Australia but across the world has placed enormous pressure on both our groundwater supply and rivers. The millions of fish recently dying in the Murray Darling River from stagnant water and rapid temperature change are a great example of this ongoing pressure, along with the inland lakes that have dried up. This is ultimately leaving nothing but a drought stricken and baron landscape that is becoming quickly unmanageable.
We are in trouble. The whole world is in trouble unless we intervene. Nothing grows without water.
Effective water management will become key to our survival and ability to not only grow food, but regenerate our degraded landscapes to reverse the climate trends. But we can’t do that with the current climate trends. We simply aren’t competing against nature as it is, we are failing and will continue to fail unless we try something new. Geoengineering solutions to some degree can be considered dangerous and thinking that we are trying to ‘play god’.
The fact is, despite opinions...we are running out of time with no solutions and at least 70% of the world’s land used for agricultural production may become uninhabitable due to our rapidly changing climate.
SO, WHAT ARE THE CLIMATE PROJECTIONS?
Australia was already a drought prone country to begin with and climate projections within the next 20 years are well let’s just say...scary.
For example, Queensland and New South Wales brings in a large majority of agricultural production and economic growth...and we are all aware of the record breaking droughts, floods and bushfires we’ve had over the last few years.
It’s just that...it’s predicted to get worse, a lot worse.
* 15% decline in winter rainfall over the next decade in south west Queensland and into NSW.
* Droughts will become more frequent and intense.
* Evaporation rates will increase up to 20% by 2030 in some Queensland areas, further adding to water shortages and drier soils.
* Extreme temperature days will likely double over the next two decades.
When it does rain by the way, it’ll come down harder and faster so it runs off the hardened surfaces and is mostly wasted.
AREN’T THERE ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS ALREADY OUT THERE?
Regenerative agriculture won’t save us here for all those out there sold on it as the silver bullet to land management. We need to remember that nothing grows without water.
Our culture is too slow to change to allow for a transition to more regenerative farming solutions...we may have had that kind of time to allow for a safe transition away from conventional farming methods, but we just don’t know.
The fact is we are still a very long way of converting Australia away from conventional and destructive farming methods.
More bore installations won’t work either as studies suggest the Great Artesian Basin is significantly lower since agricultural development began in Australia because it isn’t being replenished like it used to.
A PLAN TO WATER-PROOF AUSTRALIA AND ‘GREEN THE DESERTS’
Engineer John Bradfield recognised Australia’s future water challenges and addressed this in 1938 with a proposed plan now commonly referred to as The Bradfield Scheme.
The plan aims to ‘drought proof’ large scale areas of Australia distributing water with a gravity fed pipe system.
After being dismissed at the time due to high infrastructure costs, this plan has recently been re-proposed by the Queensland Liberal Government.
WHAT DOES THE PLAN AIM TO ACHIEVE?
The aim is to provide water to south western Queensland and into NSW, storing water in a series of dams which would be captured from northern QLD in high rainfall areas and distributed to the southern areas using gravity fed pipelines.
HAS THIS TYPE OF THING BEEN DONE BEFORE?
Yes, the indigenous Australians managed water like this using similar principles, at a smaller scale. During the wet season, they would drain lakes and redirect water to areas that would run dry first during winter. This was so these areas would store water for longer during the
dry season so they had more access to resources.
* Large amounts of rain falls in northern Australia and runs into the oceans - significant amounts of this runoff could be captured and used more efficiently without impacting aquatic ecosystems due to the fact it isn’t significant enough usage
* Could help establish large scale irrigation systems in western QLD in combination with regenerative farming practises to revegetate degraded landscapes
* Infrastructure development such as dams and pipelines would create numerous jobs and stimulate economy post covid
* Significant environmental benefits such as carbon growth in soil, more efficient food production and ecosystem health improvement in the river systems such as the Murray Darling
* Would help to stimulate alternative income streams for farmers such as providing more opportunity in the carbon farming industry
* Would be a significant solution to climate change through regeneration methods (soil carbon and forest regeneration)
* Would reduce the need for farmers to truck water in as droughts become worse in the future
* Farmers may be able to produce their own feed in times of drought instead of shipping it in which leads to income insecurity and better debt management
* Ecotourism opportunities could become more frequent if natural inland lakes were restored with regular incoming fresh water.
* Significant infrastructure costs to Government - especially post covid
* Significant amounts of water could be lost to evaporation when dams are refilled
* Water distribution would have to be regulated and accounted for
* Could be seen as a ‘silver bullet’ to climate change in agriculture.
I see four main solutions to the challenges this plan has:
* An effective price on carbon needs to come into policy to help pay for the plan and increase employment rates
* All irrigation systems from the pipelines would need to be organic in nature (no fertilisers or chemicals added) and only applied at certain times to reduce evaporation risk
* Regenerative agriculture and other methods that restore ecosystems to full health must be applied for all that want access to the water - this could be a way to regulate distribution and allocation
* It is proposed that the pipelines and dams would help to generate renewable hydro-electricity, ultimately reducing household energy costs to local regions.
If a national price was placed on carbon the capital generated would help to pay farmers to develop not only the pipeline infrastructure they need to grow food for all of us, but simultaneously pay them to grow grass that will protect the environment, store carbon in the soil to mitigate climate change and regenerate forests instead of cut them down.
A carbon price will stimulate the entire economy and generate an untapped billion dollar industry which would pay for the pipeline and dam construction for the Bradfield Scheme ten times over. It’s important to note that while the Bradfield Scheme is not a ‘silver bullet’ to water or land management, if used in conjunction with other solutions such as regenerative agriculture and carbon farming, it could be the hope Australia needs to see in our apocalyptic climate change future.
It’s also important to remember that we are in the fastest changing climate known to us in at least the last 65 million years. If we don’t intervene, and fast...the majority of the land in Australia and across the world will become largely uninhabitable...it will simply get too hot and dry to grow anything.
Any unforeseen environmental impacts from this plan will be significantly outweighed by the benefits. As an environmental scientist who wants to rewild our world and save humanity I strongly believe this plan is bold yet credible and we need all hands on deck to get it started.
As mentioned, this principle of water management using the natural layout of the land to gravity feed water where it is needed most was a common practise by Aboriginal people during their 60,000 years of enduring climate changes in Australia.
It was done in the past, and it can certainly be done again now to help us in our future.
(Written by Environmental Scientist Khory Hancock, 25 April 2020)
*) Khory Hancock (known as The Environmental Cowboy) is a country boy & Environmental Scientist on a journey that aims to inspire a complete regeneration of our forests, oceans and soils. He is an Environmental Scientist with a vision to empower others to regenerate our natural world ultimately creating a more sustainable future for our world.
Climate change is by far the biggest threat the world faces and Khory (aka The Environmental Cowboy) is starting an industry wide movement to drastically reduce our carbon emissions (by using renewable energy) and capitalise on the economic and social opportunities to draw it back down out of the atmosphere and store it safely in our oceans, forests and soils (carbon farming).
Khory originally comes from a 30 000 acre cattle station on Carnarvon Gorge, central Queensland, Australia. Growing up on the land helping his family run cattle for a living taught him basic sustainability principles - about giving back and looking after the land so that it could continue to support us. Khory now works as an environmental professional across many different industries including carbon farming, land management and rehabilitation, water management, regenerative agriculture and Light Rail (public transport). He is a highly sought after public speaker and social media influencer that provides solutions to the environmental challenges we face at an individual and company level. He uses the 'cowboy' persona to communicate the messages more effectively to the public. Join The Environmental Cowboy for adventure after adventure that inspires and is full of laughs for all!
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