Salinity management – Auditor General’s report

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HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [ 6.24 pm ]: I rise tonight because I have had the opportunity to read the Auditor General’s report “Management of Salinity ”, which was launched today. I would suggest that all regional members, and possibly even metropolitan members, look at this report. Salinity is very important, and it has to a large extent been overlooked for some time. In the 1990s, it was said that dryl and salinity was considered the greatest economic and environmental threat to the state. Since that time, we have put a lot of funding into the management of salinity, and a number of trials have been conducted to see what we can do about salinity. That co ntinued until about 2010, when the funding pretty much dried up. The report states that since large – scale land clearing began, it is estimated that dryland salinity affects between one and two mi llion hectares, or up to 10 per cent of total land, in the ag ricultural region of the south west and costs $519 million per annum in lost agricultural production.

Members may ask: why are we not talking about salinity anymore? I do not know the reason. I would love it if someone could say to me that salinity is not a problem anymore. Anyone who has flown from Perth to the eastern states recently in the daytime when it is not cloudy would have seen that there is salt scald all over the south west agricultural region. So why are we not talking about salinity? It may be that farmers have tried to do something about salinity by planting saltbush as sheep fodder, which is one potential use for it, but we cannot do that with all the saltbush. It may be that farmers have grown immune to the issue, because when they were grow ing up, there were already salt issues, so they are not really fussed about it, and although the salt scald is spreading, it is not that big. However, when trees are dying as the salt scald spreads, it is a problem.

In the heady days of the blue gum indust ry, a lot of blue gums were planted around the Denmark River. Within four or five years — a very short time — the salt level in the river decreased substantially, to the point at which the water in the river was drinkable again. Planting more trees seemed to w ork. However, I am not advocating that, because the number of trees that would have to be planted would seriously diminish the number of agricultural crops that we could grow on that land. We need to find a balance.

One of the problems is that we have a si lo mentality when it comes to salinity. The Department of Agriculture and Food is doing its thing here and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation is doing its thing over there. We need to work together. Salinity is not a problem that one group will be able to solve on its own. I understand from questions in last year’s estimates hearings that government departments are working together. Supposedly, there is a group that gets together and talks about the different issues that affect more th an one agency. I hope progress is made on that, because this issue needs to be focused on by a number of different departments. Departments need to work together and get some research happening to find out whether salinity is a problem. They also need to l ook at what we have done in the past. If monitoring bores have been put in place to check the salt content of the water, that is what we should be doing.

Another reason that we may not be hearing much about salinity is that with climate change, we are gett ing lower rainfall and the watertable is getting lower. I have heard the suggestion, and this sounds very likely, that over the last few million years, we have had a lot of rainfall, and every time rain falls and then evaporates, the salt is left behind. R ain evaporates out of the ocean, and it has salt content, and that salt has built up in our soils. When the landscape was cleared, there were no longer the deep – rooted perennials and trees and shrubs that would have drawn water from that groundwater, so th e groundwater slowly started to rise, and as it rose through the soils and sand and clay, or whatever, it brought the salt with it. The problem is that the salt not only has ruined the landscape so that very little will grow in it, but also eats away at th e concrete of bridges and the base of roads. There are a number of problems that can be solved, and we have some suggestions about how to do that. However, the funding needs to be there. It is more than just the funding; it is also the will. We need the wi ll from those departments to work together to see what they can do about this problem.

Again, I urge members to look at this report. Salinity is an important issue that affects a lot of land that used to be good, prime, productive agricultural land but is now barren. It is barren because of our activities — the things we have done — and now we need to fix it. Thank you.

House adjourned at 6.30 pm


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