June 5, 2007

Drowned Town Resurfaces in 6-Year-Long Drought

Drowned 50 years ago for progress and the promise of near limitless water, the town of Old Adaminaby has re-emerged from its sunken grave as drought ravages one of Australia's biggest lakes.

The country's battle with climate change and the worst drought in 100 years was stark at Old Adaminaby as World Environment Day dawned yesterday: Looters picked through the relics of a bygone farming town on the parched floor of Lake Eucumbene.

On the lake floor are the remains of an old truck, standing on what was once a street. The foundations of nearby houses lie covered with cracked black mud.

Old beer bottles and cans litter the ground beside the rusted farm machinery of a past generation.

"I don't know if it will ever fill again but if the dam ever fills again I will have seen history," said Sydney worker Robert Simms, scavenging beside a boat ramp which was once on the main street, but is now left high and dry by the shrinking lake.

A conservation order on Lake Eucumbene to stop looters came into force yesterday, World Environment Day.

"The old town is coming back as the lake disappears. We've had to put a conservation order on it to stop the place disappearing a second time," said local Mayor Richard Wallace.

Australia's Snowy Mountains power scheme, which created the giant lake, is the country's greatest engineering feat and took 25 years to build.

But a near six-year dry spell means the project's future is now uncertain, as are the ski and fishing grounds around it, and the irrigators who rely on its waters.

"Our income is generated 50 percent by winter tourism, either skiing or boarding, another 20 percent by summer tourism - the lakes - and the other 30 percent comes from farming, which again revolves around climatic conditions," said Wallace.

"When mother nature isn't kind to us like this, it's devastating," he said.

Dying lifeline

The Snowy Hydro scheme was meant to be a lifeline for the Murray- Darling River Basin, an area the size of France and Spain which accounts for 71 percent of the total area of irrigated crops and pastures in Australia.

The scheme captures melting winter snows into the two major lakes, Eucumbene and Jindabyne, storing them for release down into huge dams in the foothills below. Irrigators rely on the lakes to water the dry but fertile plains to the west.

But Lake Eucumbene is now almost a relic, like the ghost town it submerged, at around 10 percent of capacity.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard in April warned irrigators that water would be cut off for crops and pastures in the Murray- Darling unless drenching rains restored the river flows and re- fills Eucumbene's lost capacity.

Despite recent rains and snow bringing hope to farmers, Australia's current drought is expected to wipe 1 percent from its $790 billion economy.

To help drought-proof Australia, the federal government has called for a A$10 billion ($8 billion) reform of water infrastructure, but the plan has run aground like Lake Eucumbene's stranded boaters amid political wrangling.


(c) 2007 China Daily; North American ed.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.