Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sawdust trenches for reef protection

Landline recently told the story of trenches being funded to try and absorb nitrates from cropping areas near Proserpine. While the idea has merit,  the focus is very limited ,
Just another quick fix eroding the countries commitment to effective land use planning ?
 The dynamic of soil erosion sedimentation especially after a cyclone like Debbie has not been considered . Nitrates too can turn to other nasties even IF the trenches were made to be fully functional under the surface.
I was reminded with all this limited relearning of how  we planned to make quite profitable use of excess nitrogen in the Heytesbury - no subsidies required . Saw dust trenches for all sorts of other things .
Its just quite serious that its the political focus on the Great Barrier Reef that gets yet another bunch of world savers to fund some experimentation when farmers and local government need design with nature environmental engineers all over Australia .

Building resilience instead of wasteful reactions to disasters. This is a water control drop structure on one of Australia' s most productive dairy farms.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Are banks and waterways now obsolete in Australia's cropping areas?

Anyone who has witnessed rill and sheet erosion on  a cultivated paddock knows the damage can be severe.  Topsoils have been lost in  a large variety of soil specific slope situations in just one rainfall event  A lot of effort was put into designing and using banks and waterways in the early days of Soil Conservation services in Australia- even on very low slopes.( original post here was on the Charlton area )
Minimum tillage and improved management of weeds and soil structure has greatly limited the need for such works in many areas,   but should certain slopes still have some specific design structures ?( not those red soils again?)

Banks and waterways don't automatically stop sheet and rill erosion and  many of the early banks and waterways in the Charlton area  probably created higher erosion risks because they prevented a  full acceptance of the poor land capability.  We have learnt to resist some of these works to focus more on capability assessment , rejecting risky land use practices  and maintaining soil structure.
That great move aside -Are there still places where banks and waterways can be considered?
  • Contour buffer strips?  
  • Are they still being built anywhere in Australia ?
  • Banks protecting low slopes below steep high water shedding  hills?
  • Where soil types and are easily eroded ? (eg where loam topsoils are still in place)
  • Would high cereal prices push some farmers to use marginal lands again? 
  • Have we properly factored in the adverse effects of certain types of terrain  on the actual rainfall events and therefore estimated return periods  in some hill country ?( see previous posts)

Friday, March 1, 2013

YOUR stories of work with farmers

I'm collecting a series of short stories of OUR experiences in soil and water conservation  for publication ( names will be changed  to protect the innocent,  but authorship recognised ) For more info on this high risk,  high paying venture  contact
David Elvery ( Bendigo ) has identified a great story set posting ( eg on very early Ag in the Millewa)   at  this most interesting biographical site

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nice work when you can get it

The huge floods in Geelong in 1995 were caused by major flows in only a small area of the Barwons' huge catchment. These  floods in 1995 weren't expected ; nor were they well understood by agencies even years after the event.( see notes on Gippsland floods 2007 here )   We locals were predicting the high risk from strong easterlies since the early 1980's .On shore Easterlies are rare down here but are still clearly influential in producing higher than ARR&R curve daily rainfall return estimates.More here   

Is it possible that even today risk management estimates ( say regarding the floods on the east coast of Australia ta the moment ) are not realistic and accurate. Even politically and media skewed?  

Things have changed - but does the risk evaluation system work any better ? 
It used to be our job to dissipate unreasonable fear and direct action on sites . While this can still happen , those jobs mostly no longer exist and the advisory job is much more political with the people who speak  less local and less near the risk. We were taught in the city but we learned most of what we know on the ground
Our powerful media substitutes now talk "the greatest flood ever . the greatest fire ever , the hottest , the wildest, the fastest" .,but they know little  because they know not what the  normal range of resilience in nature looks like; the big picture is not in focus .

We could prevent real damage; had great on site jobs and great challenges to not only identify a real risk,  but try and stop someone from using land in a poor or destructive way. We were close to people so we weren't too careless with our criticisms ( " Don't drive through moving water " we hear re floods this week "
Ours  was work that provided hope for rural producers that resilient and regenerative use of abused ecosystems was possible. Knowing soils and sites we could tell when and where true degeneration and true restoration was possible .  It was work that resisted the careless panic by greens and city centrics that the country was falling apart.  It was work that defined resilience,  the basis for safety , resisted panic and cynicsm simply because any warnings were built on well thought through local connections.
Like good stewards of information and reform  we shared our concerns for unsustaianbility with the owner first .
Our powerful media substitutes now talk "resilience" danger and basis for safety but it's not personal; often too broad ,careless and therefore unable to hit the  motivation target ( Its "illegal " they say to try to get "action ") Such practice does not take  thinking people and real owners with them . Civil disobedience and cynicism grows just as the idea of emergency services grows ( rather than preventative services)

Towards a better service
All preventative services seem to need public talk of disasters to feed them.( we may not be able to do anything about that)  It' s when organisational leaders think the only ones they have to really listen to are politicians that a profession dies .
I pay tribute to the many managers in SCA who knew the difference and stood up for our profession against the evergreen onslaughts of the ignorant and fear prone in politics.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Simple ways to save dams

One of the most common forms of erosion you encounter in the paddocks of Australian farms  is that around the farm dam. Its always nice to be able to help . The reason I posted this item is because,  yet again this old SCA design has solved yet another fairly simple but personally perplexing problem for a farmer . Instead of one of two outlets make 3 including a small economical PVC based pipe outlet .
How big should the pipe?   be they always ask.As if only one pipe is best . usually not as natural channel flows are flat and wide .  The  wonder of our work on farms was that pipe flows are simple compared to designing for surface and channel flows. The pipe through the wall only makes the hydraulic challenges on the flood bypass simpler-- in his case $1000 's of dollars simpler . For a conservationist its always good to leave a smile on the farmers face.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The ongoing legacy of SCA

Resilience is a term bandied about a lot these days. Lots of people use the word but how many conservationists really  understand the professions/ instrumentalities which study it and have applied it to practical planning in the field ; The Soil Conservation Authority Victoria (SCA) was an organisation that did that.
 Its pioneering work on Land systems  were means of building concreteness and avoiding endless description and  never ending research.  It was first and foremost a leader in practical support for sustainable agricultural systems ; A pioneer in production ecology

Capability evaluation(CE) is a key objective measure of resilience as we find it in the context of land use and land management.
CE enables you to confidently establish boundaries of risk in the context of soil water and plant processes. I was priveleged to be part of a great planning service for rural producers and innovators for over 3 decades . I was also privileged recently to address an old Melbourne University group of scientists on the subject of risk management and resilience evaluation. More here

If you want to be part of the important future in resilience planning's future, Bookmark the above sites

Saturday, March 21, 2009

NVR _ Native Vegetation retention Legislation--

Regulations to limit native vegetation removal are still a major focus of environmental departments. There is nothing wrong with identifyting and preserving unique habitats and species which occupy them , but there is something wrong with focusing on the products of ecosystems .Arse about stuff . SCA pioneered the concept of systems analysis which focused on the forces that create habitat opportunities - the role of seed , soil and soil water relationships  in particular .
Those of us who have worked with and recommended changes to the legislation have occassionally recommended the legislations complete removal because of its crude and incorrect focus- yet it remains as a grand millstone around the neck of governements; a millstone threatening to drown the credibility of government staff on conservation  ;
NVR's focus on the  preservation of dying trees and forest is completely misplaced - yet as you know reading this , Shire staff go out religiuosly to try to preserve museum pieces of wood that are destined to be destroyed by fire. The focus of any regeneration and conservation program should be on the seed and the soil.  Removal of old trees is needed to make way for new trees and new better adapted roadside ecosystem realities and communities  .

NVR  regulations were established several decades ago when there was some risk of conversion of marginal lands to Agriculture . As the chance of that sort of land use application being submitted is very low is the focus of Shires on small numbers of trees and trees on roadsides creating largely nuisance value focus- threatening the credibility and viability of conservation organisations ?
What do you think ?