Catalyst - Fire, Flood and Acid Mud
A special edition of Catalyst investigates fire, flood and acid mud in the Murray Darling Basin. From source to mouth, Catalyst discovers just what's going wrong and what science suggests might be done to avert total disaster.
Fire and Water
Surprising new research shows that around 20% of water, otherwise available to the Murray River alone, can be withheld for decades. Bushfires in the Snowy Mountains periodically strip the highlands bare of vegetation – the regrowth that follows soaks up more water than a mature forest, withholding large amounts of water for as long as 40 years. Paul Willis visits the high country to see what might be done to avoid this phenomena re–occurring.
The Flood Pulse
Dr Jonica Newby heads to the Paroo River System – the last of the untamed waterways of the Murray Darling Basin - to witness a moving and quintessentially Australian event. From the pelican fields of Lake Wyara, to the glittering jewel of Lake Peery, we follow the floodwaters as they bring the kiss of life to the wildlife in the region. The Flood Pulse is an ancient pattern that ensures the good health of these complex ecosystems. But what happens in the rest of the basin, where the Flood Pulse no longer visits?
Coorong: the end of the line
South Australia's Coorong is the end of the line - where the Murray meets the sea. The large freshwater lakes, once renowned for the abundance and diversity of their wildlife are, due to recent droughts and increasing irrigation upstream, dehydrating. But, how should a diminishing resource, in high demand, be allocated to meet the needs of primary producers and a thirsty vulnerable environment?
In many wetlands along the Murray and Darling Rivers, the recipe for acid mud is perfect. Sediments flooded for decades by locks and weirs, are being exposed to air as drought affected water levels fall. Waterlogged soils often contain sulphides produced by bacteria decomposing organic matter, but if these sediments are allowed to build up and are then exposed to oxygen, they form sulphuric acid.
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