Anne McLennan of Cleggett Wines, secretary of the Langhorne Creek Winemakers' Association, wrote to me out of the blue from South Australia the other day, and since this is one wine region I had been told was suffering particularly badly from Australia’s water shortage, I asked her to explain more. Here’s her account of the current situation. Langhorne Creek is where, for example, Zonte's Footstep is grown, along with a considerable amount of blending material for wines made in Barossa Valley.
Certainly the Southern part of Australia has experienced severe drought conditions for several years, although we did get good local rainfall this year during the winter months. Still the plight of the Murray Darling river system is critical and governments are running around trying to improve the situation, which has been largely brought on because of over-allocation of water entitlements over many years. The nature of agriculture in the catchment areas has changed rapidly and massive storage dams have been built in the past 30 years or so - I actually used to live at the other end of the system so I know what it was like in the 1970s.
Langhorne Creek grape growers have long been recognised for efficient water use via drip irrigation, and the original floodplain areas still have reasonable quality water. Some were able to access good water from the local river this winter, and the bore water nearest the floodplain is less saline than in the higher, more recently planted, vineyards. There is some above-ground storage, and at least five private desalination plants have been commissioned this year. All growers are hoping this measure will be needed only temporarily of course. Recharging of the underground aquifer has been practised for around 40 years and this is an effective way to store water and it is often better quality when it is drawn back up. It is stored in the winter and used in the summer.
A new pipeline has been built by two corporates direct into the Murray River and the federal government is about to commence another pipeline from the Murray to Langhorne Creek and Currency Creek. The Lower Lakes of Alexandrina and Albert are in dire straits below Langhorne Creek and they get a lot of publicity.
The town water supply was previously from a bore although everyone has tanks of course. Now we have just been connected to the Adelaide water supply for household and stock use only. Our new building [Cleggett is opening a new winery] is almost totally dependent on rain water and only our toilets will be connected to the town supply. All our grey water will be treated on site and recycled onto the garden and trees, so we continue to use available water efficiently and effectively.
Everyone here is sure Langhorne Creek has a sustainable future ahead and in many ways we have led the way in efficient water use. The region has been growing grapes for more than 150 years and families like that of my partner Mac Cleggett now have the seventh generation living 'on the farm'. Tough English farmers they were in the past and tough Australian farmers they are now!