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New salinity fear raised in Goulburn Valley

Groundwater salinity levels are rising in the Shepparton district.

CATHY WALKER November 15, 2012 4:05am

Goulburn Broken Catchment Managment Sustainable Irigation Manager, Carl Walters.


Salinity levels in the Shepparton Irrigation Area are on the rise and could impact severely on agricultural production, even with average rainfall over the next 12 months.

The 520000 ha region, which stretches in the north from Lockington to Echuca and across to Yarrawonga, and in the south from Colbinabbin over to Murchison, was significantly affected by salinity in the 1980s.

Then, in Shepparton East and Ardmona for example, pear and apple trees died when the high watertable meant there was salty water in their root zones.

Recently, Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority used public groundwater pumps for winter salt disposal in the SIA — the first time in more than a decade the pumping has been needed.

The authority’s sustainable irrigation manager Carl Walters said operation of the pumps in winter was a key aspect of managing salinity risk to irrigated land, and was done in liaison with the Victorian Government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

He explained that agreed ‘‘triggers’’ such as the watertable level and Murray River conditions had to collide before the pumps discharged water into streams and channels.

‘‘Salt disposal from the region’s public groundwater pumps to the Murray River is in accordance with strict guidelines to ensure no adverse downstream impacts,’’ Mr Walters said.

‘‘The long drought prevented pumping for salt disposal because river flows were below disposal trigger levels.

‘‘Fortunately the drought also reduced the need for pumping by lowering the watertable.’’

Mr Walters said the need to re-activate the groundwater pumping highlighted re-emergence of the salinity risk to productive agriculture and the importance of drainage to ensure irrigation in the Shepparton region was sustainable.

There are more than 900 groundwater pumps in the area, 800 in private hands that help with local salt impact mitigation. Of Goulburn-Murray Water’s 119 groundwater pumps, 69 discharge to G-MW’s water supply channels.

‘‘The Goulburn Broken CMA is keen to raise awareness of the re-emergence of salinity risk and has reinstalled watertable watch flags at key locations across the region,’’ Mr Walters said.

He said the watertable watch flags on test wells were widespread before the drought and were effective at highlighting salinity and drainage issues.

Now, he and GBCMA staff will closely monitor those wells through the region.

‘‘It took 10 years of drought for the watertable to drop 3m, but just two years of above average rain to lift it by 2m,’’ Mr Walters said.

To find out more about salinity and drainage contact a local Landcare group or the GBCMA in Shepparton on 58201100 or email reception@gbcma.vic.gov.au

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