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# Exploring the Big Dry

Perspectives on the Victorian drought.

Victoria is currently experiencing the worst drought in recorded history. Whether this is a product of climate change or just a rare peculiarity of the Australian climate, no one can be quite sure. Regardless, the drought is having an effect on everyone as the fire risk remains very high and the state’s reservoirs dry up.

Last week, I decided to head north from Melbourne and see for myself how severe the drought has become in rural Victoria. I travelled north on the Hume Highway to Seymour, then deviated along the Goulburn Valley Highway. The first stop was Nagambie, a small town with a population of 1,300. Ironically, Nagambie has a giant water tower at its entrance and is renown for its huge lake and water sports.

The country around Nagambie is very beautiful agricultural land, covered with majestic eucalypts combined with cattle or wheat. At first glance, the countryside didn’t appear any drier than a normal January, except of course that this is only October.

I stopped at a wheat farm approximately 15 kilometres north of Nagambie. It was here that I could see closely how the crop had been affected. The wheat plants had only a few leaves, were chlorotic (yellowing) and of very uneven size and height. According to ABARE, Australian wheat production is forecast to decline by around 35% to 16.4 million tones this season. Much of the wheat crop will not be harvestable this year and will likely be turned over to pasture or haymaking.

I travelled a little further along the Goulburn Valley Highway until I arrived at the ‘Stratford Vineyard’ near Murchison. Here, a plume of dust greeted me as a tractor drove between the rows of vines. Shiraz grapes were being cultivated under drip irrigation, and the amount of water that each vine received was carefully calculated to maximise efficiency. The grapevines appeared to be a lot better off than the wheat crop, but were just starting to wilt in the heat. Evidently rain was still in short supply because the grass between the rows of vines was dying fast.

Further up the highway I spotted cattle on the Kentdale Meadows property, so stopped for a look. The cattle looked good, but it was very obvious that their pasture would not last the summer without irrigation.

Of course, irrigation is not something that can be taken for granted, as I discovered in picturesque Rushworth (population 1,000). Whilst I was there, a water-carting truck left the town after being refilled. Perhaps it was taking it to a community less fortunate? Rushworth is located at the foot of the Waranga Reservoir, which is fed from the Goulburn River and supplies water to the local towns and irrigators. The Waranga Reservoir is currently only 38% full, and it showed. When I drove out to the reservoir, there was a thirty-metre gap between the edge of the reservoir and the current waterline. The water had an odd smell to it, no doubt a product of its shallowness.

At the end of this expedition, the message was clear – water is now in short supply in Victoria and we all need to do our bit to conserve. Perhaps the rising financial, social and environmental cost of the drought will inspire the State Government to seriously facilitate wholesale water recycling in Victoria, including storm water?

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