Agricultural Water Solutions

The Issues

Water is a fundamental element of the global economy. Generally in areas without healthy water resources or agriculture societally wide economic growth is restricted or difficult to sustain. Without access to clean water, nearly every industry suffers most notably, agriculture. As clean or  fresh, unpolluted water scarcity grows as a global concern, food security is also brought into consideration. A major issue  for agriculture is the increasing salinity of soils and water brought about by excessive clearing, geological structure and over extraction of ground and surface water without adequate replenishment.

Agricultural water, is water committed for use in the production of food and fibre. On average, 80 percent of fresh water drawn from surface and groundwaters is used to produce food and other agricultural products. 

With modern advancements, crops are being cultivated year round in countries all around the world. As water usage becomes a more pervasive global issue, irrigation practices for crops are being refined and becoming more sustainable. While there are a variety of irrigation systems, these may be grouped as: high flow and low flow and must be managed precisely to prevent runoff, over spray, or low-head drainage

Fifty years ago, the common perception was that water was an infinite resource. At this time, there were fewer than half the current number of people on the planet. Affluence was not as high, individuals consumed fewer calories and ate less meat, so less water was needed to produce their food. They required a third of the volume of water we presently take from rivers. Today, the competition for water resources has increased in intensity. This is because there are now close to eight billion people on the planet, their consumption cereals, meat and vegetables is rising. Competition for water from industry, urbanisation and biofuel crops is rising congruently. To avoid a global water crisis farmers will have to  find ways top more effectively find, manage and utilise water to increase productivity to meet growing demands for food, while industry and cities also find ways to use water more efficiently.

Successful agriculture is dependent upon farmers having sufficient access to water. However, water scarcity is already a critical constraint to farming in many parts of the world. Scarcity is where there is not enough water to meet all demands, including that needed for ecosystems to function effectively. Climate change is considered to be a contributor. Arid regions frequently suffer from  water scarcity. It also occurs where water seems abundant but where resources are overcommitted. This can occur where there is over development of hydraulic infrastructure, usually for irrigation. Symptoms of water scarcity include environmental degradation and declining usable groundwater. Economic scarcity can be caused by a lack of investment in water or insufficient human capacity to satisfy the demand for water. Symptoms include a lack of infrastructure, with people often having to fetch water from rivers for domestic and agricultural uses. Some 2.8 billion people currently live in water-scarce areas.

Advance to broad acre agriculture and the Western Australian Wheatbelt.

Excerpts from Salinity our silent disaster by Jason Murphy.

Under the soils of the Western Australian wheatbelt and some parts of eastern Australia the salt store is so immense, and the movement of sub-surface water so slow, that restoration to fertility of salt-affected land will take generations. Some areas may never recover. According to the CSIRO, even if we replant up to 80% of the native vegetation, some cleared catchments would not see recovery within normal human timescales. It is a tragic irony that the felling of many billions of trees to make room for the farming that let this nation prosper has caused, in just 150 years, our worst environmental crisis, and destroyed a natural balance that had existed for millennia.

Now, farmers are frightened as they watch their farms degrade, billions of dollars are being lost, and scientists are admitting for the first time that there are no practical answers yet. It's little wonder, because the problems go well beyond agriculture. Dryland salinity also causes serious damage downstream from where the clearing has happened. Aquatic ecosystems are suffering, as is biodiversity and even urban infrastructure as saline groundwater rises in country towns and attacks foundations, roads and bridges.


                                                    Image: salt-affected land supports little or no vegetationImage: salt areas beside road

There are very few plants that can grow on salt-affected land, and the quality of pastures are reduced enormously by rising salination. (right) Salt areas often form flat pans, such as on the right of this fence. When rain falls on these areas, salt is carried downhill into streams and dams.

It is now time for the decision-makers to respond. Politicians, bureaucrats, rural industry groups and the financial institutions that fuel the entire rural sector must face the facts.

Dr John Williams, Deputy chief of the CSIRO Division of Land and Water, is one of several senior scientists who have recently spoken frankly about the urgent need for action.

"What has changed is that we have recognised that the seriousness of the problem, and the need for radical land use change, is not being understood clearly at the level of policy. We cannot fiddle at the edges. We must face radical land use change, because we don't have farming systems that can control salinity and at the same time generate sufficient income for social and community well-being in the rural sector."

That is an unpalatable admission - a message the scientists wish they did not have to deliver. But the truth is that many of our agricultural systems are unsustainable. They "leak" not only water but also nutrients, and we don't yet know how to design new systems that will capture the water and nutrients in the way that natural Australian ecosystems does. Native vegetation could do it, imported European systems mostly can't.

And it's not only the CSIRO that is voicing concern. Dryland salinity affects every Australian state, with many state agricultural agencies consequently involved in a nation-wide land management effort of daunting proportions.

The figures speak for themselves. So far, about 2.5 million hectares of land is affected and, given what we can see is happening, this could increase to 15 million hectares. What is more, the land that is effected is much of our most productive agricultural land. One estimate puts the capital value of lost land at almost $700 million so far. Lost agricultural production is $130 million a year and increasing.

The cost of damage to infrastructure is currently $100 million a year. Some 80 country towns across Australia are in trouble. For example, the NSW town of Wagga Wagga needs to annually find $500,000 to deal with the corrosion and degradation of roads, footpaths, parks, sewage pipes and housing by saline seepage. And parts of Western Sydney, in the South Creek catchment, are finding this once rural problem has finally come even to the biggest of cities.

In Western Australia, the picture is little short of tragic. The CSIRO's Dr Tom Hatton points out, with language once reserved for Brazilian rainforests, that the western wheatbelt is losing an area equal to one football oval an hour. "Eighty per cent of the remnant native vegetation on farms and fifty per cent on public lands is at risk. The South West of WA is one of the great biodiversity centres on the planet, it is particularly well endowed with plants and animals. Many of those species are restricted naturally to places in the landscape which we will lose to salt. Most of the river beds and banks are degraded, and over half our usable river water is already saline, brackish or marginal.

"For me it is tragic, and I'm saddened by our inability as scientists to get the message across."

As excess salinity expands rapidly in Queensland and Tasmania, and with sites also being reported in the Northern Territory, it is possibly South Australia that presents the most worrying picture. Testing at a site on the Murray, just south of the point where Adelaide's water is diverted, has revealed a trend that troubles Professor Peter Cullen, a member of the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, and Director of the CRC for Freshwater Ecology.

"The projections on the Murray are quite scary. Over the next 20 to 30 years, at current levels, salinity will increase to the stage where it will be outside World Health Organisation recommended drinking levels for much of the year. That's serious for Adelaide."

Dr Tom Hatton is also unequivocal on the matter of South Australia, "I am most worried about Adelaide. The projections over the next 30 years are serious … here's a whole State whose water supply is under threat."

Over the past century, at least 15 billion trees have been cleared from the Murray-Darling Basin alone, with the same number felled in Western Australia. Add in the other states, and the total is astronomical. How reckless it seems then that land-clearing goes on today at the rate of probably 300,000 hectares a year. Queensland leads the way, but New South Wales is also hard at it.


The ESS SOLUTION

ESS has created the Symbiotic Aquatic BioReactor BioOrganic Desalination Solution (SABRBODS) which has delivered outstanding results in agricultural soils and water desalination and seawater desalination and is now being advanced to commercial levels allowing solutions to be applied in  broad acre cropping and lands remediation.

We advanced the Symbiotic Aquatic BioReactor (SABR) process, to date highly successful in managing pH and stripping metals and metalloid contaminants from mining and industrial water in conditions displaying 0.5 pH to 14 pH, to biologically remove salinity (biodesalination) delivering economic, sustainable freshwater and arable soils.

The ESS Group Symbiotic Aquatic BioReactor Bioorganic Desalination Solution (SABRBODS) process, was perfected following more than 25 years of development. The result being an effective, affordable complete set of solutions in all-natural water  and soils desalination,  and synthesises with the bioorganic nutrification, wetting, binding and surface stabilization of soils in a single agricultural SABR-Lifecycle process.

The ESS Group has delivered solutions in seawater reducing salinity from 35000 ppm to below 2000 ppm and salt-lake and agricultural soils and water from 27000 ppm to less than 50 ppm in extended research and development demonstrating the SABR process’ ability to overcome any challenge thus far exhibited.

The SABRBODS process is a unique combination of naturally occurring, localised, cooperative bioorganisms formed into manifolds or SABR Symbiotic Colonies (SABR-SC). Thus far, 360 different SABR-SC’s have been developed and proven in a wide range of conditions. It delivers commercially viable management solutions and is a societally sustainable management solution to challenging effluent and contamination, especially in agriculture.  The SABRBODS process, passive, local taxon structured water and soil treatment systems have thus-far successfully remediated all globally presented soil and water challenges with the demonstrated ability to raise the pH to 8.7pH (up to 9pH) or reduce it from 14 pH to 6.1pH balancing the realised effluent to neutral, stripping up to 99% of bioavailable metals and metalloid contaminants across and significantly reducing salinity (now up to more than 95%).

The approach is to utilise the SABR and SABRBODS processes, in ecosystem-friendly bioremediation, desalination of seawater and saline ground and surface water and the reinvigoration of soils at commercial levels making them available for sustainable agricultural use.

The SABR and SABRBODS processes reduce natural and agricultural environment loss through salinity and the growing intergenerational societal risks that water and soil contamination present.