10 – River sustainability – essential for the livelihoods of landholders 109 river and the large floods, we look to the north, knowing that it is not just one flood but sequences of floods which are critical (Puckridge et al. 2000) for the river to flow all the way to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. The boom periods are essential not only for the people living on the river, providing water and grazing for livestock (Fig. 10.2) and the flood-dependent living animals and plants, but also for the terrestrial ecology. Rainfall and flooding underpin the ecology of the deserts. During boom periods, there is tremendous productivity, triggering incredible breeding by animals, including reptiles, frogs and small mammals (see Chapter 6). Inevitable dry periods follow, such as those experienced in 2013–15, following extensive floods in 2009–11. Even in such dry periods, there are often small river flows, which are critically important for our livelihood and the ecology of these systems (Hamilton et al. 2005 Bunn et al. 2006). These flows top up the waterholes, providing environmental, social and economic relief from the long dry periods. The future of the Lake Eyre Basin The Lake Eyre Basin is remarkably unscathed by human impacts it is in great shape (Kingsford et al. 2014). I like to describe it as pristine even though we know there are human impacts wherever we go (see Chapter 22). You cannot say this of many other rivers of the world. We’ve got rivers here that work and do not cost anything to manage. They’re doing what rivers are meant to do. Compare this river basin with its cousin to the south-east, the Murray–Darling Basin – a system with serious sustainability issues (see Chapters 14–16). Fig. 10.2. Floods and small flows are critical in maintaining the triple bottom line for pastoralists living on the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin. They replenish waterholes for drinking cattle and stimulate tremendous growth in floodplain pastures for the beef industry (photo, A. Emmott).
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