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Ian James
Posts: 253
Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Tue Aug 21, 2007 10:57 pm

Well, how a season can change in three weeks!

We organised a holiday for ourselves at the end of a sapping seeding season. The crops were doing quite well considering the amazing lack of rain, but no where near what would be necessary for more that a break even result.

The week before we left some good rains fell and it was heartening to see that we were leaving the farm with at least a little drink while we were gone.

On our return we were delighted to hear that the rains had continued during our short departure and the crops had shown quite a turn for the better. It was a lovely home coming.

In the week since our return we had a beautiful fine period and the crops just lapped up the sunshine which has been followed now by another few days of very nice falls.

The crops that a short time ago were disappointing and expensive lessons on how to survive a drought have transformed into lush and thick masses of growth.

Yesterday Jodi and I braved the sudden heavy showers and took our chance on the warm sunny periods between to go rock picking and strengthen and heighten our creek weirs.

We moved about 12m3 of rocks and laid them on top of and downstream of the existing weirs.

We raised the height by about a third and managed to better plug a few very leaky spots on the wall by moving some reeds out from under the wall and rebuilding that area onto the creek floor minus the reeds.

The reeds were causing large holes between the rocks which the gravel could not lodge.

I then deposited gravel onto the upstream side of the wall which until that point the water was flowing through quite unimpeded.

The gravel did the trick immediately, plugging the water which quickly built up and forced the gravel back into the crevice between the rocks making a good strong weir with far less leaking and a much higher spill level.

After working most the day on the two sites we inspected the pond that now stretches 250m upstream.

We found some encouraging signs that the area was becoming healthier from the changes we had made.

One thing though that I want to post here is the discovery I made that I will now try to describe.

As the water level in the pond has risen the side of the pond have disappeared into the thick growth of reeds on either side of the creek. The gradient here is quite level so it looks somewhat like a swampy marsh along the edges of the pond.

Photos of the creek that I have posted will give you some idea of the terrain.

The water has begun to seep past the wall that we built not in the area of the wall but up on the edges of the creek through the reeds and marsh.

I noticed when I was inspecting downstream after our days work that water was running into the creek downstream from the wall over a length of more than 50m. Small rivulets of water every half meter or so are flowing out of the reeds and into the creek the full length of the area on one side.

On further inspection I found that quite a flow was moving through the reeds at a hight well above the old creek bed and was gradually filtering back to the creek through the mud and growth in a very gentle and beautiful way.

All this downstream from the actual pond and site which we have been working on.

It is wonderful to see.

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Location: Wongan Hills, Western Australia

Post by wongankatta » Tue Aug 28, 2007 4:54 pm

Thanks again Ian for your informative posts (and pictures) - I was out of action for a couple of weeks with a nasty dose of the flu and it brightened the day a bit reading each update of your progress. I've also been immersed in reading Peter's book which my wife bought for my birthday.

I was very dissapointed that you missed out on the Nuffield scholarship - I thought it's purpose was to foster innovation and assist the advancement of farming. It would have been nice to see some support for an intelligent alternative to the deep drainage mentality which pervades the wheatbelt.

Great to hear also about the progress with a local NSF chapter - my farm is also in the Avon catchment (overlooks the north branch of the Mortlock) so I would love to become involved.

I will contact you about bringing over some vetiver grass if you still want some. The following are two excellent links on it's uses:

I'm planning to use it in rows on the contour which should create a zone on the uphill side which traps soil, water and fertility. In this zone I will plant a row of treecrops such as pistachios, olives etc. which should produce well without the need for extra irrigation. Above the row of treecrops will be a strip of crop along the contour sized to allow for machinery - probably the width of a header comb (30 foot?). Vetiver used this way in higher rainfal areas quickly produces stable terraces held in place by a curtain of roots going vertically down in to the soil up to four metres or more.

I am only half way through Peter's book but have just read the chapters on mulch farming and a sustainable layout for a farm - the parrallels with what I planned have got me very excited - ie. I'm more confident that it will work.
Duane - I can see now why Peter ideas are applicable to higher up in the landscape aswell.

Well thats enough of a rant for now - back to reading Peter's book and Weeds, guardians of the soil! :)

Regards - Andrew
"The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops,but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." Masanobu Fukuoka

Ian James
Posts: 253
Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Tue Aug 28, 2007 11:58 pm

Thanks for your encouraging post Andrew.

I definitely would like the vetiver.

Look forward to your visit this Friday.

I like the sound of your plans for the contour farming. You will create a beautiful landscape.

I will be spending some time on the sites you have suggested re: vetiver.

Looks like another wet field day in store for us all tomorrow. Great!!!

You would be very welcome to be part of the NSF chapter, of course.

Everybody is welcome!!!

I am sure you will be a valuable contributor.

Ian James
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Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Sun Sep 02, 2007 9:49 pm

On Friday I had the great pleasure to meet a new friend, Wongankatta, Andrew.

He rang and asked if it would be alright to visit and to drop off some Vetiver cultivar.

He called in on Friday morning and although we were busy treating our lambs for fly I took advantage of his visit to have a break from the jetting of the lambs.

We took a quick tour of the farm on the way down to the creek and showed Andrew our project.

He was very interested and asked a lot of questions. He took the time to show us how to plant the Vetiver cuttings and showed me how to make a line of plantings on the top of the weir bank at a level that should act as an anti-erosion measure as well as assisting in the aim of damming the flow to create the pond.

He said he had seen examples of vetiver holding back up to a foot of water on the contour.

He also left us with two large buckets of vetiver cuttings for us to plant into the bank.

We planted the vetiver about 15 to 30 cm above the water level of the pond and about the same below the top of the bank.

We did this by scooping out by hand to a depth of 15 cm or so. The earth was dry on the surface but below, very damp from contact with the pond water.

Into the excavation we placed the vetiver cultivar which we had torn free from the large clump that Andrew at provided us with.

Each clump was big enough to completely fill a normal household sized bucket and had a thick mass of roots binding the lot together.

We planted them at a distance of 15 to 20 cm and in a line along the bank. Andrew suggested that if they grew as he expected they should grow together in a continuous thick wall within about six months.

I asked Andrew to taste the water to gauge the salinity to get an idea from him if he thought the vetiver would grow in that environment. He was cautiously optimistic, as I am although we both agreed, time will tell.

It was a great reward for all the hard work we have done to have Andrew visit us and for him to be so interested in the results and we really appreciated his contribution to the project in giving us the vetiver to trial.

We felt like proud parents showing off our baby.
Thanks Andrew, hope you can come back soon.

Ian James
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Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Wed Sep 05, 2007 3:25 am

Today I had a discussion with an old timer for whom I have great respect.

The topic by chance came upon the issue of salinity and the trees ability to keep the water table low through their utilisation of the below ground water and so inhibit the accumulation of salts in the soil caused by evaporation of the raised water table once it becomes higher than the surface of the landscape.

I mentioned that I had given the topic a lot of thought of late, through my discovery of NSF.

I explained to him that I don't submit to that theory any more, as I once had.

You see, I have seen with my own eyes, thousands of acres of prime wheat country turn white and sterile within 10 years of being cleared from the remnant bush.

It would seem that the clearing of the trees caused the salinity which had been kept at bay since the dawn of time and I agreed that the clearing is the cause of the change, although not through the forest’s use of the water but through the ability of the bio diverse forests that once existed on the slopes to control the runoff over the surface of the land.

What I saw as I grew up, watching the order of cause and effect over many years, told me the story of the sudden onset of salinity over a healthy landscape.

I saw that the clearing of forest around 1968 exposed a fabulously fertile landscape which grew abundant crops for about five years.
Around 1975 rainfall became scarce and in fact the land became baked and hard over thousands of hectares of recently cleared forest land.
I remember watching the torrential downpours that came during the summer months and my excitement as the whole land was covered with water. I remember how it began to run and move and how it came down from the higher areas turning the slopes into rivers and the dry lower land into vast areas of muddy water flats.

This was too much water. There was no way that any thousands of numbers of trees could use this amount of water and keep the water table down. Thousands of hectares were deeper than my armpits and I can remember swimming for km's over what was only the day before drought ridden dust flats.

Within a year all the areas that had been underwater following this flash became white and sterile and salty.
Some large areas of trees which had been spared the clearing did remain and in the areas where they were inundated by the floods, they all died.

The salt areas that formed after the floods followed the contours and covered exactly those areas where the water had lain.

This was not a localised event. This was not a single occurrence either, over the following five or so years the same scenario was repeated, sometimes worse, sometimes less, but always with the same result.

As a child, I was able to travel and get to know a very large area in the wheat belt, from Mukinbudin to Bencubbin, from Payne’s Find to Dalwallinu and Wyalkatchem to Wyalki, the result from the floods was always the same.
Now as an Adult where ever I travel my keen eye is quick to recognise the devastation that covers my country.

No. It was not the trees which sucked the water table dry and kept it low, thus averting salinity.

In fact it was the forest which kept the soil soft and open. It was the forest that allowed the rainfall to soak quickly into the soil before it could gain energy through its accumulation on the surface allowing gravity to make the water run to and suffocate the lower areas, taking with it all the salts dissolved from those bare and barren top soils over which it ran.

I grew up in the out back West Australia. We lived on the edge of the agricultural area in WA. The boundary of our farm was the beginning of what is still one of the largest forest areas remaining in the world. This was a beautiful strong and healthy forest with so much diversity and health and just a luxury to be a part of.

I saw one day, one summer, a cloud burst and a torrential fall. Where I was, it did not rain, only a km or two away though on a higher area which had been cleared some 15 years before, it really came down.

I was in the forest on its dry dusty floor and I watched in amazement as a silent invader quickly covered the whole terrain where I happened to be, an area three km by five km, totally inundated to a depth of 40 cm or so.

I remember wading through the lush healthy bush watching the bubbles coming up all around me as the air was exhausted from the soil. At that time I was completely ignorant to the devastating effect that this event would soon have on one of the most luscious and healthy bush areas I have ever discovered.
Within a year every plant in that 15km square area was dead.
Not a green leaf in sight. Just the twisted grey bleached trunks and twigs and debris like a fallen and ruined city, sterile.

This was not caused by a lack of ground water stabilising trees, it was caused by a flood of rainwater moving over the surface of the ground, not below, and it was caused by excessive runoff from higher ground which had been cleared.

This was not caused by the gradual accumulation of subsoil moisture such as winter rainfall. It was caused by a sudden summer torrent, unable to penetrate and soak into a soft forest floor.

This scenario has been repeated right over the West Australian wheat belt and is the primary cause of salinity in Agricultural West Australia.

I have written this account from my childhood and adolescent memories because I can no longer stand silent and listen to the nonsensical explanations given by so called scientists whom, having been indoctrinated, as I have, in false ideology but who in their blind faith in their teachers, continue to espouse these false theories.

Theories, that is all they have; A theory is what one estimates to be the cause of an effect when one has only the remnants of the evidence to study.

Well I can tell you, I am not theorising based on remnant evidence. I am speaking of eye witness records and facts, my own.
Make of it what you will.

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Post by duane » Wed Sep 05, 2007 8:28 pm

James that was a tremendous post. One of those inspirational late night specials....thank you for sharing it on the forum.

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In defense of science...

Post by felicity » Sun Sep 09, 2007 8:27 pm

Before I start I should proabably explain that I am a student at Uni. of Sydney (BA of Land and Water Science 2nd yr). Also this is not meant to be an attack on anyone just a different point of view.

Ian James, I found your comments on what you had observed with regards to the effects of land clearing and salinity very intreresting and depressing (to hear of the land lost to salinity). While I will admit that alot of scientific work into causes of salinity is wrong or serioulsy inaccurate (especially some of the govenrments publications and philosophies), some work, especially recently, is quite good and can be used to explain what is observed in the field.
In defense of science to explain what happen to the forest near where you lived; the flood by its self should not have killed off all the vegetation, even if the soil did become completly water logged for some time (what is the soil like? very sandy?clayey?). The large influx of water may have caused a rise in the local watertable, that was saline, which killed off the vegetation. The water may have washed salts down into the area that were left behind as the water drained away, I am only hypothesising as I have not seen the area.

As a degree our lecturer posts a subject realted to water which we discuss as a group, and then post as a blog.
Willem and Floris are our lecturers the rest are students. The most recent posts are at the top, more should be going up soon. We are discussing the role of drought in salinity, and cover differnet scientific explanations for the causes of salinity, you may find it intreresting. Please feel free to add comments.
Ignore some of the posts at the bottem of the page they are a test run on the subject: 'Water -good or bad'

Below is a rough summary of what is believed to be the role of groundwater in salinity.
While the clearing of native (deep rooted) vegetation is not the sole cause of rising water tables and salinity it does play a role. Research in WA has shown that the clearing of forests leads to a rise in the local water table, which results in increased runoff/streamflow and higher levels of stream salinity. The study also showed that replanting the forest can begin to reverse these changes in a couple of years. (Borg [i]et al[/i] 1988). This interaction is common in Australia where the clearing of native deep rooted vegetation allows the water table to rise, and interact with previously unsaturated zones, that may contain large salt stores (generally at around 2-4 m (that were in old root zone)) which then become mobilised and enter the water system, resulting in a higher salt levels in the soil and streams (Evans et al 1998).

Groundwater levels can rise due to land clearing, increased recharge rates and poor drainage due to changed land use patterns.
In Australia most aquifers and groundwater supplies are saline due to the highly weathered geological environment, due to salt stores left from when large parts of the continent were below sea level in the past. The few stores of groundwater that are fresh are rapidly becoming contaminated & saline mainly due to European farming practices that are not suited to the arid Australian environment.


Evans, R.E. (1998) Abstracts with Programs – Geological Society of America 30 pp203

H. Borg, G. L. Stoneman and C. G. Ward (1998). ‘The effect of logging and regeneration on groundwater, streamflow and stream salinity in the southern forest of Western Australia’ Journal of Hydrology. 99, pp 253-270.

Ian James
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Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Mon Sep 10, 2007 2:30 pm

Thanks for your informative post Felicity.

Just to clarify a few questions you raised in your post.

The soil is clay. Or best described as red loam clay. Sticky when wet.

My comments were written to show an example of the direct cause of salinity through increased run off, as a result of clearing.

The area that became salty was not cleared.
The area that created the run off was.
The cause of the salinity was due to the saline water table rising as a result of the localised flooding as you correctly stated.

Not as a result of raised water table due to clearing through less root activity.

My point was to explain that the cause of the salinity which I saw at that site is the same cause of salinity which affects most of the WA agricultural area in the North east and cental wheat belt.

That is through increased run off creating a raised saline water table, not through the lack of trees utilising groundwater recharge.

Of course either way, the remedy is exactly the same, plant more trees.
Or is it?
Are you sure?

Maybe it is to control the run off to reduce flooding of lower areas by slowing the movement of water through the catchment in exactly the way that Peter Andrews has shown us to be so effective.

I believe the remedy for salinity in the Agricultural areas in the north east and central wheat belt is the latter.
To control and slow the runoff, to slow the movement of water through the catchment. Pro NSF.

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Post by felicity » Mon Sep 10, 2007 5:49 pm

Ian, thank you for your reply.

As the water coming off the cleared hill was saline, just slowing it down with Peter Andrews methods might not be the best approach as the salts would sit in the soil on the hill affecting all plant life and eventually leach down onto the lower ground.
Really the source of the salt needs to be addressed, the best approach may be a combination of tree planting and NSF. Who knows? =)
Has anything been done to deal with the problem?

By the way I think the work Peter Andrews has done is excellent and can but hope the message is slowly filtering in. It is with the next generation of scientists.

Ian James
Posts: 253
Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Mon Sep 10, 2007 11:49 pm

I will reply to the misinterpretation you have made in the first paragraph of your post.

You write

"As the water coming off the cleared hill was saline, just slowing it down with Peter Andrews methods might not be the best approach as the salts would sit in the soil on the hill affecting all plant life and eventually leach down onto the lower ground."

Stop here.

To correct you. The water coming off the cleared land was not saline. Quite the opposite.
The run off caused by the cloud burst was fresh water, beautiful fresh as daisy water.

In your first post you correctly surmised that the flooding would cause the saline water table to rise and this is exactly what has occurred.

It is important to understand the sequence of events.

As we have demonstrated here it is easy to lose track of the evidence and draw erroneous conclusions.

I urge you though to take the time to investigate for the answers are there, but please be aware how easily the facts can be misrepresented or misinterpreted through attempting to study the remnant evidence.

Possibly we should give more credence to eye witness accounts.

I get the feeling someone may have given my writings a cursory glance and dismissed my conclusions as 'uneducated" possibly mentioning the phrase you used to discount my suggestion.

I am very used to this reaction and it does not phase me at all although I do find it unfortunate as it typifies the difficulties we all face in bringing change to the current misinterpretations of evidence.

Eventually it will become clear but in the meantime I draw strength from the fact that more and more people are taking matters into their own hands and are beginning the work that will eventually show the way for the restoration to health of the Australian landscape.

Ian James
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Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Tue Sep 11, 2007 8:01 am

I really do appreciate your involvement in this Blog.
I treasure your comments and I respect your knowledge and willingness to learn.

It is very constructive to listen to your views Felicity and to integrate and blend our ideas.

Thanks again for your input, please continue post and enlighten us on the ideas and thoughts of your peers, the next generation of scientists.

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Post by felicity » Tue Sep 11, 2007 8:31 am

Sorry about the misunderstanding. I probably shouldn't write posts when I am tiered. :?

Ian James
Posts: 253
Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Tue Sep 11, 2007 7:15 pm

:lol: No need to apologise.

Just keep posting.

We all enjoy every contribution, keeps our minds ticking :lol:

Ian James
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Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Trial update

Post by Ian James » Mon Oct 29, 2007 11:25 pm

It's been a while since I have had the time to check on the creek pond let alone write about it online.

Yesterday I had a chance while shifting a mob of sheep to have a look at how things are progressing.

We had 25 mm of rain on about two weeks ago and I took the chance to set Jodi up in the air seeder to plant a trial summer crop in the paddock alongside where the creek flows.

Four days ago we received 6.5 mm so when I visited the site yesterday I expected to find the pond level to be full despite the fact that we have had some quite hot and dry weather.

At the pond I found that the water seemed to be cloudy or not clear and transparent. It looked to me like fresh water and it had a new appearance which I had not earlier noticed of having clay particles suspended in it in the way that fresh dam water does.

I decided to test the water by tasting it to see if the salinity had reduced, as I approached the water I disturbed a family of ducks. To my amazement an adult pair flapped about dramatically while around seven very young ducklings scattered to find new hiding places in the reeds along the banks.

I have never before seen ducks in the creek until soon after the weir was built, but to find now that they had managed to nest in the until recently sterile habitat and to have a successful hatching just knocked my boots off!

I knelt to scoop a handful of water and while on my knees I saw a school of small fish swimming in formation in the shallows. Real fish! In my creek! Ducks! Ducklings! A family!


I just had to taste this water.

As soon as I had the water in my mouth I noticed the difference. The normal hot burning sensation of highly saline water was not apparent.
I swilled the water round tasting it and let a little slip further back to swallow. Yes, it was salty, almost too salty to drink. Almost, but not quite. I finished the whole mouthful, preparing myself for the shock of salt burning the back of my throat. There was none.

My pond is very nearly potable.

To be sure, I would not survive long if this was all I had to drink but it would keep me alive for some time in an emergency.

That is incredible. I can hardly believe it.

I glanced up and down the creek pond to see what other changes had taken place since I was last there. I was delighted to see that one of the few remaining native trees that have survived the trauma of the last 50 years had an abundance of new green growth and was flowering.

On the other side of the creek I could see long green clumps of a native grass growing lushly right up to the edge of the water. Further upstream where pond does not reach the grass was not evident. I was heartened by the fact that the construction of the weir had obviously had a very positive effect on the immediate area in a lage variety of different facets.

On the weekend we managed to buy an old small Tipp truck which was advertised in the window of the Pingelly Roadhouse. It was very cheap and will be perfect for carting rocks to the creek and dumping for future weir building projects.

Our weir may not be a perfect engineering example, it may have taken some very valuable time from my farm management, it might not have been the best location and it could all be some unrealistic dream, but it sure does seem to be working and working very well at that!

Ian James
Posts: 253
Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Post by Ian James » Sat Nov 03, 2007 5:14 am

Today I once again had a chance to check on the leaky weir.

We had some guests visiting the farm and they were interested after reading this Blog to see for their own eyes the trial dam on the creek.

Summer is now really starting to get a hold on the farm environment. All the crops are very close to being harvest ready. The rains are further apart and the long hot days are sucking the moisture into the atmosphere and drying the land.

The creek is now a series of salty puddles. It no longer flows.

In the mornings when the cool of the night has slowed the evaporation temporarily the puddles do grow and some flow is for a short time evident.

It looks bleak, sterile and saline.

It is a scene we are all familiar with. The salty, sick creek bed.

At arrival to the trial site one is immediately presented with a very different and heartening vista.

It is something like that which I had dared to hope might be the case. As the summer takes hold, the creek trial is really beginning to distinguish itself from the drying landscape.

After driving along the creek for half a km towards the trial site we get to thoroughly familiarise ourselves with the desolation of a typical saline and heavily eroded empty creek bed interspersed with intermittent shallow pools and puddles lying on the muddy floor.

There is nothing here to be excited about.

As we approach the weir from downstream nothing about the winding creek prepares us for what we are about to see.

At first view the most striking feature of the trial is the long and winding pool completely covering the entire creek bed, lapping up into the reeds and growth that grow along the length of the waterway.

The pool continues as far up the creek as we can see and is generally 3 to 5 meters wide and well over knee deep.

It is a very healthy looking sight and very much at odds with the sick muddy puddles we had just travelled past.

We all trooped out and walked out along the bank which dams the weir to closer inspect the health of the site.

To my great surprise I find that the vetiver grass which I had sown with the help of Wongan Katta into the weir had completely fooled me and has sprung back into life.

The soil into which the vetiver is sown shows signs of salinity with fine white crustings evident on the surface but the vetiver has managed to shoot long and tall purple to lime green growths from one or two of the larger stems that had been pruned at the tops.

Buoyed by this success I was keen to check on the recently discovered schools of fish. Upstream some 60 to 70 meters, the pool, now somewhat shallower but still a good knee deep in places and covering the entire creek width, is looking great with green grass growing sparsely along the edges, the water lapping into the reeds which line the banks providing ample cover for bird, marinelife and fauna.

No sign of the duck family today but I guess with more practise they have taken a little more care not to be caught napping and are watching me keenly from a safe distance.

I manage to surprise a school of fish though and before they disappear we debate wether they are in fact, just tadpoles, (either way, it's life Jim) but no, definitely fish and they have grown some, now well over an inch in length, nearly two and plump.

Good food for ducks to be sure.

Before I have a chance to really get a decent eyeful, they disappear and I can not find trace again. Safely in amongst the reeds like the ducklings I assume.

The native tree that is growing near this accessible area is still flowering profusely. Fine white bristles about a cm in length cover about 20 cm of the ends of the branches. Fresh green leaves, very small, much like those on a tea tree cover the bush in abundance and this alone is a striking difference from the grey bleached deadwood remnants of this plants brothers and sisters that litter the length of the creek.

All long dead with the rare surviving branch clinging grimly to life amongst the waste of grey dead.

So, there is hope. It is working. Hurrah!

Three cheers for Andrew!

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