A report this year from the Auditor General’s Office has put salinity back on the agenda for WA. Salinity is a big problem, and the cost of deciding to just live with it needs to be questioned. Estimates are that 1 – 2 million hectares of the agricultural regions of the south west are impacted, costing $519 million per annum in lost production. That might double in the next 50 – 100 years. Adding the cost of damaged infrastructure, water resource impacts and biodiversity loss would provide a truer picture of the scale of the problem.
What then should be the scale of the response? A workshop on the 5th of December, National Soils Day, delivered by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development opened the way to determining the new direction for WAs salinity strategy. Determined to learn from the past, people from 55 different organisations involved in the Salinity Action Plan in the 1990s were invited to discuss what had worked well, what hadn’t work so well and to flesh out proposed future actions.
Discussions on investment, infrastructure, innovation and information both challenged proposals and created new ones. Information about the actual extent of salinity, how rapidly it is progressing, and being able to know what it is costing the State so that appropriate interventions can be taken was seen as an immediate need. One take home action was to get people talking about salinity again. The EPA told the group that salinity just hasn’t been coming up as a concern. A $519 million per annum loss in production is a concern, for the economy, and for future food security.