The weekly wash-up (October 23)

River and water news –  October 23rd, 2014

Queensland dams dominate agriculture green paper  Queensland dams make up 9 out of the 27 shortlisted for further feasibility funding in  the Federal government’s recent  Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper. The dams would be paid for by a mix of private and government funds. However, some in the irrigation sector question whether farmers will be able to afford the water.

Final report warns government not to backtrack on water reform   In its final report, the National Water Commission (NWC) has found the country’s water is now being used effectively after years of reform, but is warning governments not to drop the ball on the issue. The call comes on the same day the Federal Government announced it will be considering up to 27 new water infrastructure projects around the country. The NWC chair noted with the scrapping of the commission “Water is no longer an item on the COAG agenda and that’s our major concern.”

Ancient fish were first to have sex – sideways    A team led by renowned Australian palaeontologist John Long has pinpointed the time in evolution when intercourse developed as a method of reproduction in our distant ancestors – ancient armoured fishes called antiarch placoderms. Fossils of these ancient creatures, which ruled the earth around 430 million years ago, show they were the first animals to develop specific male and female genitalia, allowing them to have internal sex.

Antiarch fish

An artist’s impression of antiarch fish mating. Photograph: Flinders University/YouTube

Plastic nanoparticles also harm freshwater organisms    Organisms can be negatively affected by plastic nanoparticles, not just in the seas and oceans but in freshwater bodies too. These particles slow the growth of algae, cause deformities in water fleas and impede communication between small organisms and fish. Nanoplastic particles are released during processes such as the thermal cutting of plastics and when small plastic particles are abraded by sand — a process that probably also takes place in nature.

Water release in iconic snowy river   A major release of more than 10,000 megalitres of water from Lake Jindabyne Dam was designed to mimic the spring snow melt. It was part of continued efforts to restore the parched river, which was reduced to just 1 % of its annual flow rates by the construction of the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Earlier this year the NSW government axed the independent Snowy Scientific Committee, angering environmentalists and community groups.

Learning lessons from the Danube    The Danube meanders its way from Germany’s Black Forest through 10 countries, to Romania where it enters the Black Sea. The most critical species in the Danube is the endangered sturgeon – the fish that produces valuable black caviar. A combination of dams, pollution and illegal fishing has driven this 200 million-year-old fish to the brink of extinction. Now, scientists and researchers believe a new pan-European research centre set to be housed at the Danube’s Delta will help scientists understand how to tackle a multitude of current and potential problems.

Over 50,000 march in Dublin to protest against water charges  After years of free water services, the centre-right coalition has decided to charge households hundreds of euros for water supply from the start of next year. The rally represents the biggest anti-austerity protest for years.

Extreme insect: the midge that survive in a vacuum  Scientists have completed the genetic analysis on a species of African midge, which can survive a wide array of extreme conditions including large variations in temperature, extreme drought and even airless vacuums such as space. The midge, Polypedilum vanderplanki, is capable of anhydrobiosis, a unique state that allows an organism to survive even after losing 97% of its body water.