SALINITY management and mitigation strategies that include biological remediation, engineering and 'salt as a resource' must be developed for entire catchments and regions, not scattered postage-stamp patches across the continent, CSIRO Land and Water's Research Director Dr Mirko Stauffacher said.
Presenting the keynote address at the 8th National Productive Use and Rehabilitation of Saline Lands (PUR$L) Conference in Fremantle, Western Australia, Dr Stauffacher urged a cultural shift on the perception of salinity as a resource, not a nuisance.
"In many cases, we will have to learn to live with salt," Dr Stauffacher said. "There is no silver bullet and the future of salinity management has to be paved with realism.
"The National Dryland Salinity Program and National Land and Water Resources Audit taught us that large-scale and long-term intervention is needed, and that engineering options and 'living with salt' have to be part of our salinity management strategy."
Dr Stauffacher said the Prime Minister's National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality demonstrates the strongest commitment by the Government to salinity and water quality issues to date.
State salinity strategies now in place had followed the call for action. Various national programs were already significantly contributing to salinity process understanding and management.
He noted that in WA, which had the largest expression and risk of salinity, more than half of the useable water was already saline, brackish or marginal.
In addition, 80pc of the native vegetation on farms and 50pc on public lands was at risk from salinity.
Communities were more aware of the problem and motivation was strong, but to keep it going scientists needed to 'get their knowledge on the ground' and interact more effectively with communities, catchment groups and supporting government agencies in the decision-making process.
"Rural, regional and urban communities understand that without more research, farmers, catchment managers and water suppliers cannot make informed decisions and change practices to avert the salinity problem," Dr Stauffacher said.
"But the science has to be developed and applied in consultation with rural communities, to enhance their understanding and give them ownership of the tools and concepts on which to base decision making.
"This is not an easy process, and time and resources will be needed."