Adelaide’s shame – the ‘River’ (toilet) Torrens

12 02 2009

I’ve put this post off for too long as it is, but after today’s ridiculous dereliction of dutymalfunction‘, 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:

and 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 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.

CJA Bradshaw

P.S. I recommend you avoid swimming anywhere near Henley Beach for the next few weeks.

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9 responses

1 04 2013

I live Near the River torrens, I walk past almost everyday, But I have never smelt this smell you describe above.


16 02 2009

Good on Councillor Kym McKay for kicking up a fuss. I hope it gets some action.


16 02 2009
Geoff Russell

Its a measure of the relativities of fame that Vidmar calling Adelaide a “pissant town” is a major event on TV last night and ABC radio national this morning, but I don’t recall seeing footage of Corey Bradshaw being marched into the Vice Chancellors office to “please explain”. But perhaps its because you are pretty close to being spot on in your comments while Vidmar was simply being a spoiled child.

One exception. Paris up until 1900 (when it was still pretty big), used to provide all its fruit and veg from within the city limits with horses providing the fertiliser (and the transport). So I’m pretty comfortable with equine pets, veggie gardens and orchards all over the city, and yes I do have (with some regrets) chooks in my back yard. What pissants me off is fence to fence building and paving and the total waste of space that could produce a substantial quantity of fruit and veg. There are plenty of good public health and global food supply reasons for keeping livestock proper out of cities and off the food chain. These reasons would apply if horse numbers rose dramatically.


15 02 2009

Your a braver man than I, Max. I would not relish the prospect of falling into the Torrens and contracting something horrible. My fear now is that as the filth dries out, the subsequent dust blown around will become a health hazard. This is exactly what happened to the Aral Sea as it dried out.


14 02 2009

I fully agree: It’s a shame how the issue is handled and being witness of how amateurish they tried to remove the car wreck today I know certainly that there’s no attempt to make it to a better.
Police’s been waiting to do their investigations about the car and I reckon next week the whole thing will be flooded again to ensure bloody Popeye their revenue.
Thinking of taking part in last Sunday’s dragonboat races on the “Torrens Lake” I can say thanks God I’m of a robust constitution.


14 02 2009
Toilet Torrens II: The Plot Sickens «

[…] few days into the Torrens ‘River’ disaster, and we see very little in the way of a truly dedicated, organised clean-up. With some token […]


13 02 2009
Marty Deveney

>I think I even saw a fridge today

You did, I saw it too. It’s like a late 20th century archaeological site in there.

There appears to be no water quality data for the Metro Beaches that can be easily accessed, although several of the beaches are closed to swimming.



13 02 2009

I admit, I am perhaps being dramatic; but I do believe we need a complete overhaul of the River and how we manage it. I guess a year of smelling the vile odours emanating from the river as I ride to work finally pushed me over the edge. ;-)


13 02 2009
Barry Brook

Okay, so tell us what you really think about the state of the Torrens… (!)


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