At the launch of a new book by environmental writer Mary White, Running Down: Water in a Changing Land, Dr Graham Harris, Chief of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) Land and Water sector, announced that Australia will face vital decisions in the coming years, and that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option.

“These are not the rivers of Europe or North America,” said Dr Harris at the launch. “They are very old and they function differently. We are given a sense of ‘deep time’, the working out of geological and ecological processes over the millennia.”

“We need to appreciate the basic biophysical constraints of living on this driest of continents and to achieve a true vision of a sustainable future,” said Dr Harris. Irrigation uses about 70% of Australia’s diverted surface water, Dr Harris told edie, with a proportion of the rest being used for urban water supplies. However, salinity, which is a growing and widespread problem, is already threatening the drinking water from the Murray river , he said.

“Solutions lie in the realm of massive landscape renewal – replanting deep rooted vegetation, rebuilding landscapes, restoring ecosystems and biodiversity – which are the subject of research by my Division and others,” Dr Harris told edie. “Overall, the challenge of turning the saline tide and restoring the landscape of Australia is a bigger challenge than micro-economic or tax reform.”

Mary White’s book identifies the ancient nature of Australia’s rivers, looking at their unique characters, said Dr Harris. “It is books like this that will help us to find our own vision, and our own solutions to our uniquely Australian problems,” said Harris. “She has taught us to appreciate this land in its true form and to look at it through new eyes.”

Running Down: Water in a changing Land is published by Kangaroo Press, with sponsorship from CSIRO Land and Water and Bob Walshe OAM, Chair of the Sutherland Environmental Centre.

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