Grim Warning On Salinity Greets Summit Delegates

By Jason Bartlett

February 11, 2000 The Rural News

Over the next 50 years the problem of dryland salinity is likely to rise from 1.8 million hectares to 15 million hectares nation-wide unless State and Federal governments take action.

That was the grim message from Wagga's recent Community Salinity Summit, which saw hundreds of people from community groups and Government representatives to concerned individuals come together at Charles Stun University to put together a plan to combat the threat of salinity.

Salinity has long been a problem in areas including the Riverina, largely due to land clearing policies dating back to our earliest pioneer days.

Dryland salinity arises in landscapes where the leakage of rainfall into groundwater systems exceeds the discharge of water from those systems, resulting in saline sub-soil water tables rising to within several metres of the soil surface and depositing salt into those soils.

Representatives at last week's summit were determined to push the salinity problem to the top of the State Government's agenda. Most believed the fact more than $270 million per year is lost in agricultural production, damage to infrastructure, loss of biodiversity and degradation of natural resources through salinity, would force both the State and Federal Governments to finally take action.

The Summit's keynote speaker Dr John Williams from the CSIRO told the conference action must he taken before it was too late. "We are wasting what we need and we are damaging the landscape in the process." he said. "There is no magic solution, what we can do is address the cause and facilitate major change in land usage over large areas."

The State's first ever community salinity summit passed a number of motions for consideration by the State Government including a special salinity levy to be paid by all Australians.

Participants at the conference, which was organised by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the NSW Farmers Association, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the NSW Council of Social Services, have endorsed the introduction of the levy as a recognition that all Australians need to help avoid a salinity disaster.

The summit also recognised that communities need to learn what works and what doesn't by sharing information on salinity.

Summit participants have also called for "clear and consistent" advice from all NSW Government agencies on avoiding, managing and solving the problem of salinity within a strategic framework.

There were also calls for the formation of a joint Federal-State Ministerial Council on salinity with the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary for Salinity.

The salinity problem will be highlighted once again at the NSW Government's Salinity Summit in Dubbo on March 16