We started off the day at RuralCo Water in Mildura, VIC. They are a broker company that acts as a middle man between buyers and sellers of water allocations and licences. Water licenses were handed out for free in the early 1900s, but then were stopped once the government realized that there was not enough water for everyone to have a licence. It then transitioned to yearly water allocations in a cap-and-trade system, where each company that has a licence is granted a certain amount of water based on their need, and how profitable the crops are. Because of the common droughts, allocations are often not given in full, and farms can decide on whether to buy more to meet their needs, or to sell to other farms and not grow a crop. The farms with the high value crops, such as almonds, can afford to buy more allocations for their needs, and often cause smaller family-owned farms to sell their allocations in times of drought when water is worth more.
We then went to a SunSalt mine in Wentworth, NSW, which is a company that utilizes the saline aquifers in Mildura-Wentworth area. This part of Australia used to be an ancient inland sea, and it remained pure underground due to an imperveous layer of clay. The company pumps the water out of the aquifer and through a 800 meter long pipe, and then into shallow crystalizer ponds, where the water is evaporated. In the ponds, the residue left behind is the salt that is harvested and then processed off site. There is zero waste in the harvesting process, as all of the salt is used for either consumption in different forms such as table salt, flavored salts, or even in ice cream and chocolate, and other products such as foot scrubs, and for industrial purposes.
For our third appointment, we talked with a City of Mildura council member about the Murray-Darling Basin agreement. This agreement is about the water basin that includes 4 states and the ACT; Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia plus the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). With the agreement, the Commonwealth of Australia is buying licenses and allocations from farms willing to sell so that not as much water belongs to people, and it can be used for other purposes such as consumption and for environmental needs. There is a lot of backlash in the agreement with people thinking that there should not be water “wasted” on the environment, but after a lot of compromise, the agreement was put in place in 2007.
Lastly, we went on a canoe tour down the Murray river with WildSide Outdoors. We got into pairs for the canoes, and set off down the river after our tour guide. At the beginning, there was a lot of competition and racing between each of the boats, and there was a lot of splashing from Flick, Dr. Kirk, and Dr. Reese. They would come up behind a boat and pretend to talk to them, and then attack, leaving a trail of sad, soaked 20 year olds in their wake. Once we reached the lake at the end of the section of the river, we participated in a series of group canoe racing games. They would involve four boats holding themselves together, and then turning 360 degrees, or switching boats, and then racing to a spot where one tour guide was sitting. On the way back, it was much more relaxing and not as much racing, and we got to see some really cool native birds and enjoy the scenery.