Bumper season masks salinity threat

17 Dec, 2003 10:00 PM
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WITH a 2.5t/ha wheat average this year, Quairading farmer, Greg Richards is a happy man.

But he is mindful of the areas on his farm that are salt affected.

"There is 400ha here that is salt affected and my neighbours have lost, or run the risk of losing areas from 400ha to 800ha," Greg said.

"We are still paying rates on that unproductive land.

"On another block that cost us $13,000, we have lost 16ha to salt in the past four years."

As chairman of the Channel Management Committee, Greg is extremely disappointed to have missed out on salinity funding in the last two projects.

The Channel Committee had applied for National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality funds under both the Engineering Evaluation Initiative and the Catchment Demonstration Initiative, but were knocked back in both cases.

The Channel group wants to build a preliminary 35km drain from the Qualandary Crossing to the Corrigin - Quairading Road.

With 285 members, the group has gained momentum over the past 12 months with its long term proposal to dig a channel from the wheatbelt to the coast, addressing the previous bits-and-pieces approach to drainage.

But they have become frustrated at the state government's lack of action.

"The bath tub is full and we need to do something about it," Greg said.

"Landcare has doled out trees and fencing which has effectively hidden the salt, but those scalds have not disappeared.

"We have countless government agencies working on salinity but where do we go to get good technical advice?

"For many years the Agriculture Department has advocated selling up or moving the fence back behind the salt.

"We are working with bureaucrats who won't take risks or make decisions for fear of being fired.

"They are public servants, but are they serving us as tax payers?"

Greg said his recent trip to South Australia had filled him with confidence that a solution was possible.

"We can rack and stack water and treat it before discharge," he said.

"There is fresh water flowing out of sand hills on this farm year round - dilution has to be the solution.

"Water flows by my farm in the Salt Creek between May and October with a pH of 6.5 and salinity ranging from 43mS/cm in July to 71mS/cm in October.

"The seven lakes in the Yenyening system need managing."

Greg said there are departmental people who insist that the problem can be solved with surface water management, but he would argue otherwise.

"No-till practices have improved water infiltration and water does not run like it used to," he said.

"I use all the water I can on my farm but I maintain that the bath tub is full.

"A lot more country could go out to salt if the water table rose a further 30cm.

"The Teakle report in the 1920's pointed out the need for drainage."

While acknowledging that a broadscale project requires planning, he is fed up with being told that monitoring and desk top studies will begin sometime in the future.

"We need $50,000 for a conceptual plan and feel we should have been entitled to some of the NAP money," Greg said.

Environment Department salinity manager, John Ruprecht maintains that $900,000 has been allocated for a regional drainage assessment project in the Avon Catchment.

"The scoping work has already started," Mr Ruprecht said.

"We will call for an advisory committee and the funds will cover desk top studies with some site evaluation.

"There is as much angst associated with this project as there is positivity.

"This drainage project is like building a major highway and there is a necessity for adequate planning."

Greg said the channel group has been told that if it were to put up a self-funded project, then they would get permission to dig a channel.

"That gives us a pretty good indication of the Gallop government's attitude to farmers and salinity," he said.

"We have been to the moon, why can't we cure salinity?"

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