“We plant the seed, nature grows the seed, we eat the seed.”

“Shut up Neil.”

“We plant the seed, nature grows the seed, we eat the seed.”

“I said shut up Neil.”

Glunk.

“Oh my God, I’ve killed a hippy!”

 A memorable moment in that wonderful and irreverent British comedy series The Young Ones, first shown in Australia around the mid 80’s. Being a hippy can still be dangerous though probably not from a punk housemate like Vyvyan. Today, Neil might be thumped for going on about saving water and waterways

The scene from the BBC comedy went through my mind recently as I drove past countless paddocks that had been or were being ripped and sown down to barley, oats, wheat or rye in anticipation of spring rains and a successful summer harvest. Recent rains across most of the State provided a window of opportunity for planting and farmers are doing just that.

“I wore out the knees on my overalls praying for rain”, was the short statement I got from one busy fellow who pulled alongside his ute to replenish the seeder he drew behind his ageing tractor. “And I’ll wear out another pair praying for more!” he shouted over his shoulder as he moved steadfastly back onto the tractor seat and took off.

I didn’t think it was the right moment to talk about the latest drought culprit. Forget El Nino, the Indian Ocean Dipole has now been identified as having the most influence on Victoria’s rainfall, or should I say lack of rainfall. Smaller ocean current swirls from the Antarctic, possibly due to atmospheric changes are impacting on the temperatures of the Indian Ocean resulting in less rain crossing Western Australia and eventually, over Victoria. Our drought, having been with us now for 15 years and regarded as the longest since European settlement, seems ongoing with no one prepared to call when it will end.

What this means if there is no change in the weather is a little difficult to predict. It is uncharted territory and pipelines to the cities and desalination plants are just the first signs of our search for solutions. 

Hundreds if not thousands of kilometres of new irrigation pipes are replacing the open channels in the irrigation areas of the north west of the State in an effort to save water loss from evaporation. But if it doesn’t rain, where will the water for this irrigation and those pipelines to the cities come from?

Learning how to live with a different climate is a huge challenge both personally and politically and will likely cause disputes and legal challenges along the way. Many things we now take for granted will no longer be available to us and some of our daily habits – difficult to change at any time – will have to be revised to avoid the dire consequences of persisting in what will become unsustainable activities. 

On the political level, economic interests will fight to try and hold on to what was, in a similar way that US car companies failed to recognize change and continued to manufacture so many oversized gas guzzling cars, refusing to see what the rest of the developed world had already figured out, that smaller cars were better for all sorts of reasons.

Trying to grow irrigated food when we no longer have enough water to maintain the river system that feeds it is not unlike General Motors or Chrysler with their heads in the sand. Change in personal virtue (how each of us chooses to live) as well as a social and political philosophy redirection is inevitable but this time, not simply from choice but from necessity.

Recycling city water is one of the next big steps. What’s that? “No way I’m going to drink that!” OK. If you can’t make it rain then you have two choices; the first is ‘get over it’, and the second is to move to somewhere where rainwater is still available, if you can afford to do that. 

Lets us enjoy these winter rains while they are here but not forget how difficult another dry summer might be.

“Petrol should be the price of whisky and water should be the price of petrol.”

“Shut up Murray.”

“Petrol should be …”

Glunk.

Reference: The most comprehensive analysis of the Indian Ocean Dipole can be found here: http://www.bom.au/climate/iod

See more Country Notebook articles: Written by Richard Lee for a monthly newspaper column.

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