GRASSROOTS INPUT TO ENVIRONMENTAL DEBATES
The Dunham River issue: September 2004
Early September 2004 Kachana Pastoral Company hosted its third environmental workshop with the theme: “Biomas: an ecological stabiliser in productive landscapes” Guest Speakers were: Sam Bingham from Denver, USA and Dr Andrew Storey from Perth, Australia
Workshop topic: Dunham River Catchment Case Study
“We’ll all be ‘rooned’… if the rain don’t come.”
“We’ll all be ‘rooned’… if the rain don’t stop.”
Flying Fox Yard: Dry season
Flying Fox Yard: Wet season
After a viewing of Wilma Keppel’s slide show on erosion and with the aid of map and white-board Chris Henggeler outlined a scenario that may be unfolding:
1. Restricted drainage of flood waters from the lower end of the Dunham River.
The perennial flow of nutrient rich tail-water off the Packsaddle Plains irrigation area into the Dunham is leading to increased vegetation which restricts the drainage of flood-waters in the river channels. Despite significant sections of river-bank having been eroded away in recent years, passage way for flood-waters is still restricted.
2. Increasing floodwaters emanating from higher up in the Dunham catchment.
Soil-exposure and the pealing away of loose deposits until bedrock is exposed, is leading to accelerating deterioration of the capability of the remaining soil to capture and retain rainfall; this leads to increasing run-off. Inherited soil-exposure problems have been made worse in recent years by late season burning and questionable stocking regimes over many years. (http://www.abc.net.au/kimberley/stories/s492225.htm)
His conclusion: If current trends persist it is only a matter of time before we will experience significant damage to down-stream infrastructure. Risk already exists for:
- Property downstream from where the Dunham and Ord Rivers meet
- Both bridges over the Dunham River
- Sections of the main highway between the Diversion Dam and the lower Dunham bridge
One of the choices we as a community may need to make is: Do we focus on finding out what is going to happen and prepare for crisis management? or Do we as a community accept in general the predicament we are in and begin to focus on addressing the root cause in the hope of eventually avoiding reoccurring crisis type situations that are a direct result of deteriorating catchment health?
We then formed groups and discussed the “Dunham River issue”. Resulting comments included:
- A recommendation to create awareness through media coverage
- We need outcome-based projects
- A need for unbiased non-threatening monitoring
- A need to inform the public honestly about current practices and outcomes
- Stakeholder group with periodic meetings
- Education through schools
- Speak to decision makers
- Identify problem (including traditional practices and causes)
- Look for solutions and options
- Prioritise where funding goes
- Ask opinions of stakeholders and general public
- Come up with realistic Holistic Goal / demonstration model
- Get community support
- Collect facts/monitoring
- Fieldtrips stakeholders / representatives
- Award for excellence – Financial? Prestige?
- Meet on regular basis
- Outside facilitator
- Performance-based lease conditions
- 2-week young stockman’s camps
- Visit Bohemia Downs project on burning (aboriginal school program)
Is there really a problem?
General community awareness seems to focus on individual issues:
- Frequency/extent of fire
- Location of salinity
- Single flood events
- Drought areas
- Location of fish kills
- Weed infestations
- Loss of biodiversity
- Human health problems
Is not “health” the key?
- The general health of our broader landscapes?
- of landscapes which surround our production and living areas…
- of landscapes which supply our recreation and the attractiveness of the area…
- but more importantly of landscapes which supply our requirements for abundant clean water and which should perform the purification processes that protect us from disease…
Just like in a human body where fluid and nutrient uptake and conversion can indicate much about the basic health of a person (even to lay people), so in any landscape no profound rangeland knowledge is required to observe some basic indicators that tell us much about what is actually going on: Landscapes need to be able to capture and retain moisture and (solar) energy to perform the natural purifying processes of air and water and to be able to provide the nutrients that build and support biodiversity.
Living soil (not just ground up parent rock particles and dead organic matter) literally forms the skin of our productive land-surfaces. When soil erodes so does the basis of any land-based economy; including that of whole nations…(how would the economy of your own body function if you were to lose significant portions of skin on a regular basis?)
What then may be the effects of a whole catchment deteriorating directly up-stream of a small community like Kununurra?