King for a day – what conservation policies would you make?

29 11 2013

CrownI have been thinking a lot lately about poor governance and bad choices when it comes to biodiversity conservation policy. Perhaps its all that latent anger arising from blinkered, backward policies recently implemented by conservative state and national governments in Australia and elsewhere that leads me to contemplate: What would I do if I had the power to change policy?

While I am certain I have neither the experience or complete knowledge to balance national budgets, ensure prosperity and maintain the health of an entire country, I do have some ideas about what we’re doing wrong conservation-wise, and how we could potentially fix things. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list – it is more a discussion point where people can suggest their own ideas.

So here are 16 things I’d change or implement (mainly in Australia) if I were king for a day:

Read the rest of this entry »





Blog Action Day 2010 – Water neutrality and its biodiversity benefits

16 10 2010

In my little bid to participate in Change.org’s Blog Action Day 2010 – Water, I’ve re-hashed a post from 2008 on ‘water neutrality’. This will also benefit my recently joined readers, and re-invigorate a concept I don’t think has received nearly enough attention globally (or even in parched Australia where I live). So here we go:

The world’s freshwater ecosystems are in trouble. We’ve extracted, poisoned, polluted, damned and diverted a large proportion of the finite (and rather small!) amount of freshwater on the planet. Now, most people might immediately see the problem here from a selfish perspective – no clean, abundant water source = human disease, suffering and death. Definitely something to avoid, and a problem that all Australians are facing (i.e., it’s not just restricted to developing nations). Just look at the Murray-Darling problem.

In addition to affecting our own personal well-being, freshwater ecosystems are thought to support over 10000 fish species worldwide (see also a recent post on Africa’s freshwater biodiversity’s susceptibility to climate change), and the majority of amphibians and aquatic reptiles. Current estimates suggest that about 1/3 of all vertebrate biodiversity (in this case, number of species) is confined to freshwater. As an example, the Mekong River system alone is thought to support up to 1700 different species of fish.

So, what are some of the ways forward? The concept of ‘water neutrality’ is essentially the wet version of carbon neutrality. It basically means that water usage can be offset by interventions to improve freshwater habitats and supply. Read the rest of this entry »





Toilet Torrens II: The Plot Sickens

14 02 2009
© CJA Bradshaw

© CJA Bradshaw

A 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 efforts to clean up the more obvious rubbish in the lake section itself (i.e., cars, fridges, etc.), there is nothing suggesting the true problems are going to be addressed. Indeed, the authorities are desperately trying to ‘find’ water to cover the problem up rather than deal with it.

Instead of a catchment-wide mass clean-up, the removal of the water-sucking invasive plants that line the river’s edge (see photos below), the implementation of a water neutrality scheme, and the removal of hundreds of untreated drainage pipes, they are willing to spend over $1 million to pipe in water from elsewhere.

I can’t believe it.

This is the best opportunity Adelaide has ever had to rectify the problem and clean the mess up once and for all; instead, the investment is going toward a cosmetic cover-up that will effectively fix nothing. Toothless. Some images I took today while cycling along the Torrens path follow:

© CJA Bradshaw

© CJA Bradshaw

© CJA Bradshaw

© CJA Bradshaw

© CJA Bradshaw

© CJA Bradshaw

CJA Bradshaw

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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 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.

CJA Bradshaw

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

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Water neutrality and its biodiversity benefits

5 11 2008

blog-water-balance-200x200The world’s freshwater ecosystems are in trouble. We’ve extracted, poisoned, polluted, damned and diverted a large proportion of the finite (and rather small!) amount of freshwater on the planet. Now, most people might immediately see the problem here from a selfish perspective – no clean, abundant water source = human disease, suffering and death. Definitely something to avoid, and a problem that all Australians are facing (i.e., it’s not just restricted to developing nations). Just look at the Murray-Darling problem.

In addition to affecting our own personal well-being, freshwater ecosystems are thought to support over 10000 fish species worldwide, and the majority of amphibians and aquatic reptiles. Current estimates suggest that about 1/3 of all vertebrate biodiversity (in this case, number of species) is confined to freshwater. As an example, the Mekong River system alone is thought to support up to 1700 different species of fish.

So, what are some of the ways forward? The concept of ‘water neutrality’ is essentially the wet version of carbon neutrality. It basically means that water usage can be offset by interventions to improve freshwater habitats and supply.

A great new paper by Nel and colleagues published online in Conservation Letters entitled Water neutrality: a first quantitative framework for investing in water in South Africa (definitely one for the Potential list) gives us a good model for how water neutrality should work. Using a South African example, they describe a scheme where investors are required to (1) review their water use, (2) implement a reduction strategy and (3) replenish water to hydrological systems through the investment in catchment services equivalent to their water use. It’s in this last act that the ‘neutrality’ can be achieved for the betterment of biodiversity – in the South African example, participants replenish their water use through investment in clearing of water-intensive invasive alien plants that choke freshwater systems and otherwise use much of the available water. And we all know how destructive invasive species can be (see previous post on this subject).

Not only does the scheme produce more water, it restores fragile freshwater ecosystems and does so within the economic framework that allows schemes like carbon trading to operate. We desperately need something like this in Australia. Imagine, more water for everyone AND healthy river systems (again, think Murray-Darling) – all paid for by previously water-intensive, but now ‘water-neutral’ firms. Imagine seeing labels on Australian produce that say ‘This is a Water Neutral product that supports freshwater ecosystem health’.

CJA Bradshaw

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