DRIVING THROUGH Baralaba — generally a pretty dusty central Queensland town — last week, we had the amazing sight of a metre of water tumbling over the weir on its way to flood Rockhampton.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who thought that, “gee, it’d be great if we could store some of that water for when the dry times return.”
And perhaps a number of storages (we couldn’t mention that politically incorrect term ‘dam’) down the Mackenzie, Dawson and other great rivers this last week flooding into the Fitzroy. Or some of those that poured-off the Clarke Range that flowed past the good country at Bowen. Or over the mighty Burdekin Falls Dam and not captured for that huge, and potentially larger Burdekin farming area.
Or behind Casino and Grafton, or the Mary or Boyne rivers.
You get the picture.
Cyclone Debbie was a real bitch for the wind and water damage.
But she was also that once-in-a-couple-of-years opportunity when this largely wide, brown land gets a decent drenching. Lots of farm and community dams from Ayr to Taree got filled-up.
But like the leaking tap, so much water was wasted.
That anti-dam (and just about everything) publication, The Guardian, (from rain-sodden Manchester, but now with an Australian online edition) had an article saying “Australia would have to import food for its increasingly urbanised population because of the devastation caused by Debbie.”
They suggested more urban veggie gardens. Even veggie patches up and down every railway line in Manchester couldn’t feed England in the desperate dark days of WW2, let alone today.
And where does the water for the urban veggie gardens come from — hate to upset the city hipsters, but it comes from dams.
If it’s OK (in fact, necessary) to surround cities with dams, what’s so wrong with more water storages around our most productive agricultural land?
Yet, every time a dam is proposed, there’s an unholy coalition of hipsters, greens and government Treasury boffins who find all the delaying tactics to ensure they don’t happen. Or propose dams as preposterous (shallow, poorly situated, poor geology) as the Traveston Crossing on the Mary River. Peter Beattie’s folly has cost the Queensland government $680 million not to build that dam.
Sure, the federal government has thrown a few bucks at dams, such as on the Firzroy, but the Queensland government has got every politico-bureaucratic stalling action underway.
I don’t know what stacks-up best between superdams, like the Burdekin, or a series of weirs and smaller dams as favoured in countries such as Brazil and Europe. Those countries have a series of weirs and dams down rivers, most with hydro-electricity generation as they let the water downstream for both irrigation and city use. Maybe that’s an alternative.
If you fly out of Dubai to Europe, take a left hand seat and look at the ancient irrigation works — started 6,000 years ago and still operating — on the Tabriz Mountains leading to sustainably irrigated agriculture for 180 generations. Fortunately they didn’t have the scale of bureaucratic blockages we face today or 180 generations would have starved.
Back then the world’s population was a third of a billion, but they invented irrigated agriculture to ensure their people could have food through drought and flood.
Today’s population of more than seven billion, rising to nine billion by mid-21st century (just three decades away), needs to eat and drink.
Food requires sun, soil and water.
We can’t waste the water to feed the billions.
Just as you’d repair a leaky tap, we need to build some dams to save some water for food production in the dry years.