In the Summer (February) edition of H2O.Thinking (the water magazine produced by my organisation eWater CRC) I wrote about my travels to California. What struck me then were the obvious parallels between the ‘water experience’ of the western US and that of eastern Australia.
In California and further west, irrigation was set up in the desert lands, using water supplied from large dams that captured occasional big flows from storms. And now that water has been demanded – and partly taken away – by massive urban growth on the coast.
Like Adelaide in Australia, Los Angeles could never have prospered and grown without access to water, otherwise destined for irrigation.
As I understand it, so much water is taken out of the Colorado River by upstream irrigators and cities that the river’s delta in Mexico often dries up. And things appear similarly on the verge of catastrophe in the delta of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River, south of San Francisco.
In Australia, the ocean mouth of our longest river system, the Murray-Darling, has closed through the combined impacts of over-use and drought. Since 2002, only dredging keeps the river mouth open. At a cost of several million dollars per year, this is done to ensure fresh seawater replenishment into the, otherwise stagnating, Coorong coastal lakes system – a wonderful Ramsar-listed coastal wetland complex at the end of the Murray-Darling.
In a 2009 Reuters article, Peter Henderson warned Americans that they could be heading for experiences similar to those of Australia.
Maybe it is about time Australia and the USA started working together to address the fundamental challenges of water over-allocation and climate change that both countries face.