National Geographic : 1985 Aug
salinity endangers a quarter of the land near Shepparton, in the Goulburn Valley, a cen ter of Victoria's lucrative dairy industry. Henri Vegter, a farmer from Gippsland in southern Victoria, put his life savings into a dairy farm 20 miles from Shepparton and moved there with his wife and young chil dren a few years ago. "That first winter was one of the wettest on record, and the salt in the rising water table destroyed 15 feet of good pasture a month," he said. "I'd see the gray fingers moving across the green paddocks-and smell them. It was like rotting seaweed. "A lot of farmers at first didn't want to ad mit they had a problem with salt, because their property values would fall." Vegter organized 26 of his neighbors and succeeded in getting a commitment from the government of Victoria to put in a million dollar drainage scheme. He has survived by cutting down his herds, leasing land, and buying feed. He's worried. Will the drainage scheme work? Vegter bit his lower lip. "They say it will. I don't know. It must. ... " Other efforts are being made to cope with the salinity problem in Victoria and New South Wales, but some fear that the Murray won't be a viable river in 50 years. Opening of new irrigation areas has been sharply cur tailed, and for the first time many Austra lians question whether irrigation is essential to the development of their dry continent.