National Geographic : 2009 Apr
• they think somebody would turn the tap o ," s a y s rural nancial counselor Don Seward. But as the drought advanced, the allocations have plum- meted: 95 percent. en 50. en 32. And now, in Mick Punturiero s case, back to 16 percent. " e river s no di erent from the highways every Australian pays for through his taxes," he argues. "Every Australian has paid for the locks. We ve paid for the Dartmouth Dam, which was supposed to drought-proof South Australia. So why don t you give me my full allocation? Give it to me! It s rightfully mine!" Punturiero sees himself as the faithful care- taker of land that the Australian government gave to reward the service of young men who died on the sands of Gallipoli. He sees that land as a gold ingot that the government has turned into a lump of lead. He sees powerful interests pro ting at his expense. He sees new irrigators downriver sucking the system dry. He also sees fellow farmers much like his grandfather, who never bothered to put a dime into savings, tum- bling into insolvency. Or committing suicide. And he understands their bottomless despair. He feels it himself at times---"boxed into a cor- ner," he says in a suddenly depleted voice, "and I can t defend my family no more." But fury returns. Anger is all Mick Punturiero has at the moment. He will not go down with- out a ght---that he pledges: "You won t see me Wales and Queensland routinely flouted the extraction cap and continued to hand out licenses. " e increase in diversions from the Murray River in the late nineties was rather like drinkers in a bar," says Malcolm Turnbull. " e barkeeper says, Last orders, gentlemen. And everyone rushes in to drink as much as they can before they get thrown out. at s what we were doing. Just as it became apparent that resources were overtaxed, there were more claims on it." A decade ago, Mick Punturiero had grown to be South Australia s biggest lime producer and was doing all the right things. He employed the latest water conservation technology. What water he did not need he donated back to the state for environmental usage. Even so, he could see where the increasing demands on the Murray would lead. He recalls warning a state o cial in the late 1990s, "You need to stop this development. We re poorly managing our water resources." He remembers the o cial s words as if uttered yesterday: "Mick, you can t control progress." en came the drought, which began like any other, in 2002. But it has not ended, and now the binge is over. Though dryland farmers who depend on rain have watched their corn and wheat elds dwindle into dust plains, they at least have been accustomed to braving parched sea- sons. By contrast, "irrigated farmers have always had water, and never in their wildest dreams did To water their garden, the Charter family of Hallett Cove---including parents Carl and Leita---shower together and catch the runoff in buckets. It's one of many measures promoted by the state of South Australia that the family has used to cut its water consumption in half.