The weekly wash-up (March 21)

River and water news – March 21st, 2014

I’ve followed the unfolding drought in California with interest as they start to adopt some of the policies and water saving strategies that are every day in many parts of urban Australia. One wonders about about our ability to stay at the cutting edge of natural resource management, however, when our largest science agency cuts climate change research claiming it isn’t one of our biggest challenges. Read on…

Global warming may increase methane emissions from freshwater ecosystems  A recent study has suggested increasing temperatures on Earth will increase the rate of methane production – more so than it will impact the production and use of carbon dioxide. This is significant because methane has 25 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide. It is produced in freshwater ecosystems by an ancient group of microorganisms that exist in waterlogged sediments. As these microorganisms help decompose biological materials, they produce methane (rather than carbon dioxide).

Global food trade can alleviate water scarcity  New research suggests that, contrary to popular belief, the global food trade offers the possibility of relieving water stress and making global water use more efficient. This is because the production of agricultural goods requires water so when you export goods you also export what is termed “virtual water”. The amount of water required to produce a given product can also vary widely from place to place.  So, so it might be more economical for the world to have regions specializing in certain products and exporting them to others.

Snowy Hydro’s independent monitoring faces axe  The independent body tasked with overseeing environmental flows to rivers affected by the Snowy Hydro scheme faces the axe this week, to be replaced by a panel handpicked by NSW Minister for Primary Industries. While the Minister viewed the committee’s independence from Government “a key weakness”, a prominent freshwater scientist on the committee stated independence is “the way scientists give you the best advice”.

The Mary River Turtle - under pressure from previous harvesting for the pet trade.

The Mary River Turtle – under pressure from previous harvesting for the pet trade.

Pet shop sales almost wiped out Mary River turtles  Each year between 1962 and 1974 around 15,000 eggs of the Mary River Turtle were collected, mostly by one man who sold them into the pet trade. These turtles were eventually discovered to only come from the Mary River and were declared a rare species. A campaign by Wildlife Queensland is underway to try to protect the Mary River turtle by identifying all nest sites, installing nest guards, and electric fencing, and monitoring so that in case of floods the eggs can be moved. You can consider making a donation here.

Some California cities seek water independence  As California is gripped by historic drought some communities are seeking to reduce their reliance on water from the overtapped Colorado River and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Santa Monica has perhaps the loftiest goal: to completely wean itself off outside water by 2020. While Santa Monica bets on groundwater, it’s also investing in other water conservation tactics, including recycling and rain harvesting.

CSIRO chief’s departing makeover  The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, better known as CSIRO, is facing its largest upheaval for a decade. Two national research flagships and 11 research divisions will be axed by July 1. In an uncanny reflection of recent events in Canberra (see the axing of a food rating website and the climate commission) the flagships that will go are climate adaptation (dubbed by some scientists as “the research that dares not breathe its name”) and preventative health. The change is meant to enable CSIRO to focus on the biggest challenges that face Australia and differentiate it nationally and globally.