Managing dryland salinity in south-west Western Australia

Page last updated: Wednesday, 22 July 2020 - 10:04am

Managing dryland salinity can provide many benefits: increased whole-farm productivity, reduced on-farm and off-farm degradation, and protection of landscape and community values.

Note that salinity is specifically mentioned in the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945, and the Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation has a role and functions in managing salinity.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development recommends that any dryland salinity management is part of a whole farm, and preferably a whole catchment, water management plan.

Note

An owner or occupier of land must give at least 90 days notice to the Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation of an intent to drain subsurface water to control salinity and discharge that water onto other land, into other water or into a watercourse, even if on the same property. The notice must be in writing using the notice of intent to drain or pump (NOID) form. Principles and guidelines for inland drainage are covered in the Policy framework for inland drainage.

Go directly to managing salinity options

Benefits from managing saline land

  • land doesn't grow, so use what you have
  • could decrease farm business losses by avoiding non-productive land
  • could increase farm business profit by producing a commercial product
  • could reduce seasonal risk by providing off-season grazing
  • could decrease salt export off-farm
  • could decrease water erosion
  • demonstrates good farm management

Some guiding principles for saltland management

  1. Have a goal for saltland management: this is going to take some years, so be committed.
  2. Assess the site: the most important part of this assessment is knowing what is causing the buildup of salt. More information is on the assessing dryland salinity page.
  3. Produce a whole-farm plan for water management and land use. Management options in the next step will depend on whether the farm is all cropping or mixed farming.
  4. Choose management options that suit the environment, farm plan and long-term land use.
  5. Design and implement the option to suit the the site conditions.
  6. Monitor changes and adapt management to the changing conditions.

In most areas of Western Australia, the benefits from management on-farm will also be on that farm. However, surface water management at a catchment level is often needed to avoid transferring unwanted water and salt to downstream land managers.

Manage salinity as part of whole-farm water management. Recovery is usually the most expensive option.

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Managing salinity options

Reviews and case studies

No active management

Use engineering options

Use plant-based options

Saltland pastures

Revegetation, agroforestry and farm forestry options

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Innovative options

Some links to general salinity information

No active management

Not usually recommended. Allow natural revegetation to protect the ground from wind and water erosion. At some stage, the saline site will reach a steady state – varying a bit due to climatic and weather conditions. This option is only acceptable for small areas not affecting other land use.

Benefits: little or no cost; changes in salinisation can be monitored before deciding on any treatment.

Problems: erosion risk is high; salt build-up on the surface and movement off-site is likely; may expand.

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Engineering options

Benefits: are dependent on the option and site; once established, continues to work for many years; do not require a specific production system; can capture water resources.

Problems: requires extensive site assessment and detailed technical planning before construction; expensive to establish; usually restricts trafficability to some extent; can be expensive to remove or change; usually has a discharge that can cause problems on- and off-farm.

Plant-based options

Benefits: does not have effluent discharge; can have direct commercial products; can change land use quite easily.

Problems: requires good livestock and/or plant management; changing salinity or waterlogging may affect plant survival.

  • saltland pastures (adaptation): to increase livestock feed, which is highly valuable at the break of season or in dry seasons.
  • deep-rooted nonsaline perennial pastures (prevention or containment): can be used in long-term pastures or as a phase cropping option.
  • salt-tolerant shrubs and trees (adaptation, prevention, containment): for carbon sequestration, habitat, and possible wood products. This link is to tables of different salt tolerance.

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Innovative options

  • inland saline aquaculture (beta carotene production, algae seaweed, brine shrimp, fin fish)
  • harvesting salt and minerals
  • energy production (solar gradient ponds)
  • desalination to produce fresh water supplies

Except for desalination, most of the innovative options listed have been researched and trialled, and failed to reach industrial levels. Some of the options have high value niche markets (e.g. beta carotene, algae for pharmaceuticals). We recommend extensive and intensive investigations before adopting any of these innovative options.

Contact information

Richard George
+61 (0)8 9780 6296
John Simons
+61 (0)8 9083 1128