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Smartrivers has spent approximately $1,900,000.00 dollars of community raised funds to undertake the most extensive monitoring program to date of the Lower Balonne to date. Irrigators are also employing new technology to reduce their water usage and protect their river.

Working on Sustainability

One of the most challenging issues facing Australia is the sustainable management of the land and water resources that support our local economies and our distinctive environment.

Smartrivers strive to contribute to the economic development of Queensland in accordance with the doctrine of ecologically sustainable development. We support the concept of sustainability whole-heartedly.

The benefits gained from living by this mantra mean that our community can live day to day in a way that is acceptable and does not impact upon the natural environment to an unacceptable level.

Cotton IrrigationSmartrivers invest heavily in monitoring and we understand what sustainability within our rivers and on our floodplains really means.

An equally important area of investigation is on farm sustainability. This reflects the areas of on farm activity that will effect the longevity of our farming systems. Factors such as Water Use Efficiency, Sustainable Soil Management, Salinity avoidance strategies and other on farm practices covered by Best Management Practices.

Water Use Efficiency
Irrigators within the Lower Balonne strive to increase irrigation efficiency. Benefits resulting from an efficient use of water include reduced groundwater problems and higher productivity.

Most development within the Lower Balonne embraces the latest technologies, involving cell type storage constructions that enable waters to be amalgamated as volumes allow, thus reducing surface area and evaporation.

All irrigators employ a “closed system” which means water utilisation is increased and there is no loss of potentially contaminated tail water to river systems and wetlands.

In relation to understanding water "take" from the river, it should be noted that it is a policy of Smartrivers that all water taken from the river should be metered and monitored.

For irrigators in the Lower Balonne to justify their use of water supplies and to maximise the potential to expand sustainably into new areas, water use efficiency initiatives are essential.

Smartrivers encourages irrigators and others in the industry to observe and maintain proper practices

Management of Soil Structures
Many irrigators in the Lower Balonne have embraced the need for better management of soil structures to improve water infiltration, increase natural nutrient exchanges, and also increase water storage holding capacities of soils. This enables growing of a better crop and water is managed more efficiently.

Soil is assessed for its suitability for irrigated cropping. The surveys that have been completed in the Lower Balonne region use a combination of the traditional soil survey techniques, and electromagnetic induction surveys.

Areas of soil that are considered stable and resilient enough to withstand the stresses of irrigated cropping are classed as suitable for that purpose. Other areas of soil are used for rain-fed cropping if suitable, or grazing, or left as native vegetation.

Salinity has been branded as one of the major threats to the sustainability of land use with the Murray Darling Basin.   It threatens water quality in the river system and potentially impacts on the environmental value of streams, rivers and wetlands.

Soil PitRiver health cannot be assessed without taking salinity into account, because both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are sensitive to changes in salinity.

Specific investigations have been undertaken which include the largest Airborne Geophysics Survey of its kind in Australia. This programme was funded under the joint Federal and State program, ‘National Action Plan For Salinity and Water Quality’.

Smartrivers was a keen participant of this program and our involvement assured us that we are aware of the total process, from data collection to final interpretation, so as to understand the methodology and thus be accepting of the outcomes.

This technology is often referred to as the “Ultra Sound” of the earth.   It allows us to understand the make up of the soils down as far as 150 to 200 meters. Once the electromagnetic survey is completed, a series of calibration holes are drilled to ensure that the data from the airborne survey is calibrated. In these holes, salinity is measured through pore fluids. The result of all of this is that we can produce accurate depth slices indicating various levels of conductivity.

Once this has been done, it is possible to make a useful interpretation of the location of salt and also water resources in the landscape. An enhanced soil map – making use of existing soil landscape information and the new detailed data from airborne gamma-radiometric imagery - is another product of this project.

A Salinity Steering Committee was set up in the Lower Balonne to work with the Bureau of Rural Science and Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines. The steering committee was comprised of representatives from a wide range of community interests. They included indigenous leaders, conservationists, graziers, irrigators and independent scientists.

Supporting the above process, many landholders are doing their own on farm work including on ground electromagnetic work (EM31) and soil investigation through good old-fashioned soil pits.   They are investigating areas that show up as a high hazard on the Qld government Salinity Hazard map and show high conductance on the airborne electromagnetic map. This work encompasses the top, middle and bottom areas of the Lower Balonne catchment.

Another important process is building a soil water model so as to establish the amount of deep drainage that we are getting under our existing cropping systems. This tool quantifies the magnitude of deep drainage losses from un-irrigated fields/irrigated fields, channels and storages. It also determines the fate of the deep drainage water that leaks beneath our field. Salt balance plans can be developed via this method as well. This process is aided by the use of tools, such as mini lysimeters and C Probes.

The DNR&M monitor shallow ground water bores in the Lower Balonne. This exchange of data will enhance the planning process in the field and help irrigators work towards a partnership approach to sustainability.

Landholders and consultants alike believe that with increased knowledge and understanding, and the modification to some of our farming practices, we can minimise the impact of salinity on river health from irrigated agriculture in the Lower Balonne.

The collective use of the above sustainable practices will come together to form what’s known as a land and water management plan, as well as establishing sustainable practices that will allow future generations to follow in our farming footsteps.




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