National Geographic : 2009 Apr
such crops, its farming lobby had emerged as a formidable political force, and the government was selling o water licenses to any bloke who fancied being his own boss and who wouldn t whinge when the odd drought came along. Mick Punturiero s grandfather was a Calabrian émigré who bought his rst acreage from a retir- ing World War II veteran, one of thousands more soldiers enticed by the government to develop the basin. e audacity of farming in such an arid area was not readily apparent to Punturiero s grandfather, who had no education other than in how to grow an exquisite grape. Soon the Murray began to run low, and elds started to salt up. Unfortunately, the prescrip- tions only helped spread the disease. Leakproof irrigation technology meant that less water returned to the system. Salt interceptors kept crops from being poisoned, but only by pump- ing out limitless quantities of water. In 1995 the Murray-Darling Basin Commission nally introduced a cap on how much water each state could draw from the river. But the binge didn t end. Farmers who owned water rights but had never used them proceeded to sell their now coveted "sleeper licenses" to others who would. Industrialists were offered tax incentives to create superfarms and introduced vast olive and almond groves to the basin. Meanwhile, the governments of New South re ective moments, he does not entertain the notion that the problem arises from the folly of growing citrus on the wrong side of "the line." e line is Goyder s Line, a boundary that marks the limit of su cient rainfall for crops to grow in South Australia. In 1865 a surveyor named George Goyder set out on a remarkable journey by horseback to trace the point where grassland gave way to sparse bush country. Australia s settlers relied on Goyder s Line to demarcate arable land from land unsuitable for agriculture. Except when they didn t: Renmark, for instance, lay on the wrong side of Goyder s Line, but that did not stop two Canadian broth- ers named Cha ey from developing an irriga- tion system in Renmark two decades a er the surveyor s warning. As it turns out, the Cha eys were three dec- ades ahead of their time. e Australian govern- ment inaugurated its rst "soldier settlement" scheme a er World War I, o ering land, water, and farm machinery to veterans. In the dec- ades that followed, orchards and vineyards and wheat elds miraculously sprang up from for- mer scrub desert north of Goyder s Line. Canal a er canal was dug to deliver the Murray s water to the new farmland---and later, to sprawling irrigation districts dedicated to the nascent (and highly water-thirsty) rice industry. By the early 1970s, Australia was a major exporter of Lettuce grower Donato Gargaro irrigates seed- lings with water from the Murrumbidgee River near Hay. About 95 percent water, lettuce is best grown in winter, when rain can augment irrigation and temperatures drop, reducing the water lost to evaporation.