I’ve put this post off for too long as it is, but after today’s ridiculous dereliction of duty ‘malfunction‘, I can no longer hold my tongue (as it were).
I’ve been living in Adelaide for about a year now, and it’s been slowly dawning on me just how badly managed, for decades, the Torrens River has been. I cycle or run to work along the Torrens cycle path and see and smell the amazing neglect that has accumulated over the years.
The river literally stinks of rot and filth. What am I saying? The Torrens is about as much a river as a trickle in public urinal. Actually, most urinals are a hell of a lot cleaner.
It’s not just the rubbish, the unregulated and ubiquitous pipes of untreated run-off entering every 100 m or so, the almost complete lack of flows during the summer, the terribly regulated flows during the infrequent winter rains, the toxic build-up of blue-green algae, or the choking invasive alien plants lining its entire course, it’s the unbelievable neglect, cover-up and blind ignorance that has lead to one of the most polluted, unnatural and degraded streams in Australia.
And it’s in the middle of Adelaide.
This is how some would rather you think of the Torrens:
But scratch just a little under the surface and you find this:
Yes, today’s mishap exposed decades of bad management to the press and the public in general; the authorities can’t wait for a little rain to cover up the ‘embarrassment’, but they’ll have to wait a long time. This isn’t “embarrasing“, it’s shameful, disgusting, neglectful, irresponsible and naïve.
Of course, a few people have some partially right approaches to address the problem – indeed, Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith suggests we take advantage of the low water levels and clean up the mess. I couldn’t agree more. However, apart from a few derelict cars pulled out, I’ve not seen a single attempt to get out there and do the job properly. We need to remove every last scrap of rubbish from the Adelaide Hills to Henley beach – this means the trolleys, oil drums, bicycles, wheelie bins and other assorted crap (I think I even saw a fridge today). I’m willing to help.
We need a major overhaul, clean-up and rethink about this so-called ‘river’.
The ‘drought’ that Australia seems convinced will some day end will not go away – climate change will ensure that, along with the persistence of some very bad urban water policies. We need to get used to the idea that we’ll have less and less water, not suddenly more when the ‘drought’ ends. Sorry, the drought won’t end.
So, what can we do? There are some very obvious improvements that can be made:
1. Undeniably, a massive, catchment-wide, get-your-hands-dirty clean-up is required to remove the astounding array of rubbish.
2. Yes, we have reduced flows and will continue to have in this state for a long time to come. So, we need to minimise waste. A paper I recently covered in ConservationBytes.com detailed how a water neutrality programme would benefit water supply AND biodiversity. The idea is relatively simple – the water allocated to industry, residents, etc. is taxed according to total use. The monies received are then invested in removing all those invasive reeds, rushes, palms, bamboo, etc. that line the water course (all of these are water-hungry pests that have no business being there in the first place). In one fell swoop you have an employment program, an incentive to use less water, a ‘water-neutrality’ scheme that makes water-intensive products (e.g., fruits and vegetables) more attractive to environmentally conscious consumers, removal of alien species that consume too much water and prevent native species from proliferating, and importantly, a functioning ecosystem that provides water more regularly.
3. Get rid or divert all those untreated storm pipes from all and sundry lining the Torrens along its path. I’ve seen campground drainages with all sorts of filth flow into the river, car park drainages and inappropriate garden waste ooze into the river right along its course.
4. Let’s get rid of the horses grazing on the denuded banks of the river near Henley Beach. What the hell is livestock doing grazing in the middle of a city?
5. Remove golf courses lining the river.
6. Debunk the myth that bore water used to keep artificially lush gardens in the wealthier neighbourhoods lining the Torrens is somehow not subject to the same problems as rainfall-sourced water. 72 % of the Torrens’ water use is residential. We waste far too much of the underground water on these ridiculous gardens in our desert city – I’m sorry, the prominent display of ‘Bore Water in Use’ in so many gardens around Adelaide is contemptuous and ignorant.
Can we mend the Torrens? Yes, yes we can. A lot of rivers is much worse shape have been brought back to life over the years (see examples here, here and here), so we can do it too. It just takes a little political will, some intelligent policy, a bit of money and public commitment.
P.S. I recommend you avoid swimming anywhere near Henley Beach for the next few weeks.