My father, L R East of Victorian State Rivers, is pictured in a famous photograph straddling the great Murray River near Nyah, in 1923 in an Australian drought. Even after the dam-building that followed, he warned irrigators and others frequently about taking too much water from the Murray. Talk of ‘balance’ is a mistake. The whole future of the economic and social needs of the people of the Murray-Darling basin depends upon the environmental health of the Murray.
We should be warned by the irrigation systems of the past which dried up in the Middle East and Central America. The Aral Sea in Russia, the world’s fourth biggest inland sea, a rich source of income for four countries, is now practically dried up and surroundings saline, because too much water was taken from it for industry and cotton-farming.
The great Newfoundland cod fisheries, described in Kipling’s Captains Courageous, once seethed with fish . In the 1980s marine biologists warned about the heavy fishing and recommended an annual target of 125,000 tonnes of cod. The community outcry about the economic and social damage made the government raise the target to 235,000 tonnes. Stocks fell below a sustainable level and in 1992 this rich natural resource closed down. 30,000 jobs were lost and Newfoundland’s economy rapidly declined.
We must accept we are limited by our land and water, and the swings of drought and flood, or we die greedy.