A farming family living alongside an important piece of Murray Darling Basin infrastructure says it is losing cropping area rapidly due to the spread of saline land. 

Key points:

  • Farmers living alongside the Noora Basin say salt spread is ruining their land
  • Reports commissioned by one of the landowners say the spread has been greater than first thought
  • SA’s Department for Environment and Water says the basin has been an environmental success 

The Noora Drainage Disposal Basin is a salt deposit scheme located in South Australia’s Riverland, about 20 kilometres east of Loxton, which is used to pump salty water out of the main Murray River. 

Commissioned in 1982, saline water is deposited in the basin so it does not end up being used by irrigators or having an adverse effect on wildlife. 

But surrounding landholders say the salt is spreading further into their properties and at a greater rate than was initially predicted during the basin’s planning. 

Yvette and Gary Frahn own land adjoining the basin and have operated a multi-purpose farming operation for the past 20 years. 

Ms Frahn said the rate of land deterioration had resulted in her property losing about 40 hectares of cropping land to date.

“It starts as a bit of ground where the crop won’t grow, then over time the ground deteriorates in quality where it develops a black sludge and a crusty layer on top.

“When we brought this property 20 years ago we had three salt scolds at the time and we thought then that’s all there was and all there will be.”

Other landholders surrounding the basin have told the ABC they have lost between five and 10 hectares of land since the basin was established. 

‘Low risk’ areas now under threat

The Frahns have been paying for soil experts to assess their land and put together reports on the findings to show the state government the scale of the land damage. 

Reports compiled by agricultural consultant Chris McDonough argue the rate of land erosion has been faster than was set out when the basin was established and the planning data didn’t take into account variables in the surrounding land and climate over time. 

“The Frahns clearly understand and support the important role that the SIS [salt interception scheme] has to play in protecting our river resource,” Dr McDonough’s report stated. 

“They have, however, been diligently expressing their concerns over the degradation of their property resulting from the impacts of the NBSIS [Noora Basin Salt Interception Scheme], but remain frustrated by the lack of any positive action by the authorities involved to resolve these issues.”

Bare land on a farm affected by saline water.

Land on the Frahn’s farm they say has been ruined by salt spread from the Noora Basin. (

ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook

)

The report stated zones which were designated as being of low risk of salinity damage from the basin were now high risk and need action. 

Ms Frahn said the state government should have committed to ongoing monitoring after the basin’s completion to track any land damage. 

“I think there are extraordinary opportunities to look at best practice management for all adjoining land that is affected by this particular scheme.”

The Frahns are now seeking compensation for the damage from the state government. 

Basin ‘great environmental success story’

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Water said it was aware of the Frahns request for compensation for damage they allege was caused by the basin. 

“Noora Basin commenced operations in 1982, 17 years before the landholder in question purchased their property.

“The risk of potential future salinisation of surrounding land was understood when the basin was established and was discussed with the neighbouring landholders at that time.

A large lake surrounded by vegetation.

The Noora Basin was established to help remove salt from the Murray River. (

ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook

)

The spokesperson added the operation of salt interception schemes in the basin had been a “great environmental success story”. 

“In addition, in spite of the high levels of salinity, the establishment of the Noora Basin has created a much more diverse and vibrant ecosystem, including native vegetation, bird and fish life, than had existed at that location previously,” the spokesperson said. 

“The Noora Basin is also playing a key role in the delivery of environmental outcomes under the Basin Plan.”

These farmers worry their land is threatened by a vital piece of Murray River infrastructure
Source:
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