image of effectively captured and retained water


Water is fundamental to life - but access to it is diminishing. In the future, securing an adequate supply of safe, reliable water will become strategic determinant for communities, regions and nations worldwide – and it is imperative for our farmers to sustain production. We must be efficient in using the rainfall we get and manage it in an integrated way with our soil and vegetation resources.

Why do we need to better manage our water?

image of a spring

We need to retain our rainfall within
  our landscape.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent with highly variable rainfalls. Australia’s landscape used to be characterised by ‘in-soil’ reservoirs. Complex microbial ecologies maintained soft deep soils which allowed for infiltration and retention of rainfall into well-structured subsoils. These in-soil reservoirs then leached any salt to depth and slowly recharged and sustained what were typical reed covered billabongs, meandering waterways and fully functioning floodplains. As a result, most of Australia’s inland rivers did not discharge rainfalls to the sea, but recharged aquifers or created highly productive inland deltas and extensive wetlands and intermittent lakes.

Today, 1 million kilometres of Australia’s rivers and streams are mostly incised, wetlands are drained and the essential balance between functional vegetation and crop areas has been lost. Aquifers are being depleted with grave consequences for farming communities (read the sobering article Peak Water: What Happens When The Wells Go Dry?).

Australians are also some of the highest per capita consumers of water. We need to secure many times the actual water that is projected to be available under current practice. With rainfall patterns changing, how each drop received is conserved and used is critical. Overgrazing, overcropping and soil degradation have further reduced rainfall penetration. The structure of soil is imperative to maximise efficient infiltration and capture of water.

What happens to water when it falls on the landscape as rain has to be managed in such a way that every drop is utilised to the maximum advantage; whether in maximising its capacity to hydrate the soil; to replenish relevant aquifers or when saved through capture from rooftops, roads and storm water drains or recycled from waste; it all has to be properly managed. Water is only a renewable resource if the water cycle is functional - and to achieve this, healthy soils are essential.

- - - 100 DROPS - - -

visual representation of the 100 drops model

To date, emphasis has generally been on the water levels in our major dams and rivers. This ‘end of pipe’ philosophy focuses on what is flowing into storage rather than focusing on better use and conservation of the rainfall where it lands, in the landscape – the ‘front of pipe’ - before it makes its way into our waterways.

Typically, 50% of our rainfall is wastefully and unnecessarily lost to evaporation - largely because it cannot infiltrate the soil.

So how do we better manage our water?

Image of a healthy chain of ponds

Slowing the flow of water repairs riparian areas,
  holds on to nutrients and creates a healthy
  chain of ponds.

Healthy soil and soil organic carbon levels are fundamental to capturing and retaining rainfall for use in the landscape. Every gram of carbon in the soil can retain up to eight grams of water. Effective management of our rainfall and waterways is also essential to retain topsoil and for landscape regeneration.

We should prioritise water as the nation’s primary, natural, strategic asset and manage - and probably price - it accordingly.

We need to implement ‘front of pipe’ policies where greater efficiencies can be found to better use and conserve rain where it initially falls for immediate use by plants and animals, without expending energy inputs to make it available.

We need to:

  • raise soil carbon levels by improving organic matter in soils through increasing groundcover, vegetation, mulch, composts...
  • slow the flow of water across our landscape, restoring 'chains-of-ponds' and limiting the loss of nutrients from the soil, retaining them for flourishing plant growth and animal health
  • improve absorbance of overflow through healthy soil for productive use in dry times and further recharge groundwater stores
  • reconnect the floodplains with the rivers and streams to enable them to reduce the draining effect of our eroded waterways
  • restore our wetlands, of which 80% in the Murray Darling Basin alone have been drained
  • adopt policies and practices that focus on the capture and conservation of the 86 of every 100 rainfall drops that fall on the land that are currently being wasted.

Slowing down the flow in our waterways has conclusively demonstrated that it is possible to not only allow water to flow out over the landscape and be infiltrated into the soil, but also to actually increase the volume of water flowing downstream. The restoration of vegetative cover also contributes significantly to the retention of water within the landscape.

Read more about Natural Sequence Farming, how leaky weirs work and reinstating flood plains - all accompanied by some great graphics and photos - courtesy of the Earth Integral website.

Visit our blog and read our case studies for further information on the importance of managing our water and wonderful examples of how farmers are improving their landscape, water-use efficiency and profits.

Find out more about the other key factors in landscape regeneration - soil, vegetation and biodiversity.