Australia Seeks New Ways to Curb Salinity

September 6, 2000

Australia is looking at two new initiatives to tackle the problem of salinity and land degradation in its largest river system, the Murray-Darling Basin.

Warren Truss, Australia's Federal Minister for Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries, has released a proposal for the Basin Salinity Management Strategy, which suggests creating a mixed landscape of commercial tree crops, mixed perennial-annual planting systems and areas of native vegetation.

Truss, who chairs the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, said the initiatives represent a new approach to managing the Basin's natural resources and could mean major changes for governments, industry and the community.

"It represents a long term commitment covering 15 years of programs," Truss said. "In the short term, it will employ engineering options, such as ground water pumping, to keep river salinity levels down until other solutions, such as tree planting and new farming systems, begin to take effect. Market driven incentives will also be an important part of the package."

Representatives from the six governments in the Murray-Darling Basin prepared the draft salinity strategy. Supporting strategies from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia also have been released in the past few weeks.

At the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, Dr. John Williams, deputy chief of CSIRO Land and Water, offered his remedies during the launch of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission's draft strategies.

"No single land use option will halt the growth of salinity in our land and rivers," Williams said. "We need to employ a combination of novel land uses that suit the diverse climate, soils, and water conditions of the Basin. Many of these will require more research before they can be used by farmers."

Williams suggested development of commercial tree production systems and/or novel tree species for large areas of the current crop and pasture zones of the Basin. Trees for fruit, nuts, oils, medicines, bush foods, specialty timbers, charcoal, carbon credits and bio-mass energy, might be able to hold the water without much leakage.

Low rainfall tree crops are potentially the most effective option to curb salinity, said Williams, but there is "urgent work to be done" to develop suitable varieties and ensure markets exist for their products.

Williams advised planting new types of cereals, pulses, oilseeds and forages bred to reduce deep drainage and nitrogen leakage.

(Source: Environment News Service)

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