The weekly wash-up (January 26th)

The week that was in river and water news – January 26th, 2014

Bats use water ripples to hunt frogs   The male túngara frog, native to Central and South America, spends his nights calling from shallow ponds, attempting to attract the attention of a mate. Yet his call, which is based on a pattern of “whines” and “chucks,” inadvertently creates a multisensory display that can be exploited by both friend and foe. Researchers have found evidence that bats use echolocation — a natural form of sonar — to detect these ripples and home in on a frog. The discovery sheds light on an ongoing evolutionary arms race between frogs and bats.

The Tungara frog (Physalaemus pustulosus) becomes a target for bats as his mating call sends ripples across the water surface.

The Tungara frog (Physalaemus pustulosus) becomes a target for bats as his mating call sends ripples across the water surface.

Extreme weather events threaten water quality  Research involving 41 water utilities including Sydney Water and Melbourne Water, has found that climate change may affect the quality of drinking water as much as its availability. The biggest risk comes from a combination of unusual weather-related events, such as a drought followed by bushfires and then a flood, rather than a single extreme phenomenon.

A win for stakeholders in the Macleay River  Dialogue has helped to build bridges over the issue of Macleay River water quality between a mining company and a group concerned with the threat of contamination. Save Our Macleay River (SOMR) are now recognised as stakeholders meaning they can be at the table for discussions with scientists from the university, the EPA and the mining company. Such meetings and sharing of water quality data have helped in the process of building trust.

The Macleay River, northern NSW. Photo by Cgoodwin.

The Macleay River, northern NSW. Photo by Cgoodwin.

Murray-Darling basin environmental water to be sold to farmers  For the first time, water bought by the federal government to restore the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin will be sold to farmers, with up to 10 billion litres to be put to tender in the Gwydir Valley in northern NSW. The water holder will not sell the permanent water rights the government has bought, but rather the temporary annual allocation that comes with it. The proceeds of the tender would be used to water at another time. While studies have shown the use of buybacks as the most efficient and effective way to recover water for the environment, the Abbott government has capped the amount of water it will recover via this method preferring to get the rest through infrastructure works on farms (see last item in this post).

Water utilities review plans after West Virginia spill  On January 9th  a leak of coal-cleaning chemical forced 300,000 people in West Virginia to stop using their water. The facility had originally stored gasoline and hadn’t updated its safety plans in relation to water assessment in 12 years. Environmental groups cite the leak of 7,500 gallons of chemicals on the banks of the Elk River, less than 2 miles miles upstream from a water intake serving the state capital, to show that protections are lacking for drinking water.

Poison-breathing bacteria may be boon to environment   Researchers have found colonies of bacteria with an unusual property : they breathe a toxic metal to survive. The bacteria use elements such as antimony and arsenic, in place of oxygen, an ability that lets them survive buried in the mud of a remote salt lake near Yosemite National Park. Preliminary tests suggest that the bacteria could be used to remove pollutants from refinery and mine wastewater including selenium and tellurium and protect the surrounding ecosystems.

Murray darling irrigators win funding, improve efficiency  The Federal Government is funding six Queensland irrigators to improve water efficiency. A total of $11 million will go towards farm infrastructure such as better storage facilities and improved irrigation distribution systems. “We’ve made it very clear that we want to recover water by infrastructure investment rather than by buy back,” explained Senator Birmingham. This despite a report last year that showed buy-backs are the most cost-effective way of delivering environmental flows.