25 April, 2012

Here is a commentary from a man who lives on the shores of Lake Alexandrina-it is worth reading.

Science and pseudo science – the sleeping giant

Our opinions can diverge after we agree on the facts, because facts are facts are facts. 
I am comfortable with an artificially fresh Lower Lake in front of my house at an artificially raised level - for the convenience of it (a preference/value judgment based upon my own selfish agenda) and I would not spend time and mental energy trying to defend this personal preference to anyone. But the barrages are there and with strong river flows that we have right now, they can maintain a fairly fresh artificial system against the tidal pressures which would otherwise push estuarine salinities a long way into the lakes - just as they did for the thousands of years before the barrages were built and before there were any upstream diversions. 
And I accept that others who may not live on the shores, or have irrigation licenses, or front lawns to water may prefer the notion of a full time natural estuary with the barrages removed or permanently open - and again I would not spend time and mental energy trying to persuade them instead to agree with my preference - value judgements are just that.

But when anyone, whatever preference they are promoting, makes statements that are false to encourage others to agree with them - my sense of 'fair play' is greatly offended - as a science educator for over 50 years I know the strength of the scientific process to guide our thinking towards outcomes that are meaningful and valid. Science I believe is 'a fair go for thinking'. Observable facts (evidence) and rational thought (logic) give rise to conclusions which
make sense.
So! - there is some serious nonsense being promoted out there at present by people who should know better but who may just themselves be misinformed - and the nonsense suits their purpose so they resist exposure to the evidence which refutes their assertions.
The environmental fundamentalists and their followers (who include South Australian politicians of all persuasions, not least the incumbent Premier and his government, who quote all the environmentalist clichés as they threaten to demolish the very aim of the Water Act and its Basin Plan - to revert back to legal challenges to uphold the old order of the Constitution's State Rights.  For what purpose?-- to go back to where we started which does not make sense - because they are also saying that the old order has put the river and the environment in crisis.
What do they really want?
And what are they saying that does not make sense?

  • They are saying that the river is in crisis, that salinity is a major issue in this crisis, ("2 million tonnes of salt etc etc "), "rivers die from the mouth up", and that over extraction is the cause of this crisis.
But what does the evidence actually tell us - the hard cold facts - (2+2=4 type facts with not an opinion in sight)?In fact the salinity trends in the lower reaches of the River Murray have shown a continual and significant improvement over the past 30 years since salt interception schemes were introduced - the salinity levels in the Lower Lakes during the recent extreme drought were the result of just that - extreme drought - with upstream extractions for irrigation virtually shut down. Not my opinion but Murray Darling Basin Commission data – so why is this not known, understood and accepted by these impressively credentialed people?

Apart from the drought which needed management considerations unrelated to upstream extraction issues - but which was managed into catastrophic ‘dry down’ - the river is
not in the salinity crisis that is claimed and over extraction cannot be blamed for the effects of the drought.

  •  They are saying that the Lower Lakes have always been fresh (and by implication should be kept that way).
But again, what does the evidence actually tell us - blatantly biased amateur historic collections aside - the diatom evidence is often quoted - and yet the Professor and internationally renowned leader of that research project, Peter Gell, has publicly disassociated his own conclusions from the data from those being claimed by the 'freshwater only' lobby – and so the diatom data can hardly be deemed to be conclusive - either way.

But to settle the argument once and for all - supporting the little known research of South Australian oceanographer Professor Rainer Radock who observed and measured reversal (through the Murray Mouth) of the strong river flows of 1974 by tidal pressures when meteorological conditions increased tide heights - we now have telemetry monitoring of salinity and water levels accessible to home computers which have demonstrated multiple incursions of saline water from the ocean to a considerable distance into Lake Alexandrina - well north of Point Sturt, despite strong river flows in the order of 30 to 40 GL per day, whenever a high tide 'catches' the barrages with open gates and therefore has connectivity with the Lakes.

There can now be no doubt at all - the numbers tell the story - that without the barrages even in times of strong river flows, the estuarine mix would have extended well into the Lakes - and in times of average or lower river flows , would have extended to where in 1830 Sturt detected a distinct line between freshwater and saltwater (brackish) at Pomanda Point, where the river enters the Lakes.

As recently as July 2002 the Murray Darling Basin Commission's 'Living Murray' major 'discussion paper' booklet stated matter of factly (on Page 18) "The barrages have also changed the ecology of the Lower lakes, reducing the estuarine area of the Murray to 11% of its natural size" (my emphasis), using Jensen A. et al 2000, p19 as its reference. – meaning that 89% of the original estuary was upstream of the barrages.

So clearly, this rewriting of the 'popular' scientific wisdom has occurred within the past 10 years - presumably under the pressures of political influences - science has been 'bent' to fit political/ideological preferences and is therefore no longer science. And yet the scientific 'establishment ' seems to be dancing to the tune of the ideologue and has not engaged - indeed seems most reluctant to engage with the relevant facts - the evidence which so clearly there.
I believe that this scientific data - the 'salinity improvement in the river' data which refutes the 'salinity crisis' claims  - and the 'tidal intrusion against  strong river flows’, data which refutes the 'always fresh' claims are the sleeping giant which will, when woken - devour the political, scientific and environmental reputations of many high profile activist/advocates - and the giant is stirring.
Let's spread the word and give SCIENCE the boost it needs to overcome the bent pseudo-science which is currently holding sway.
Trevor Harden
Clayton Bay, Lower Lakes, SA

1st April 2012
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