Social Action Office

Click here for a pdf version of this reflection for printing.

National Water Care Week ~ 19-25 October 2003

The Social Action Office (SAO) is currently focussing on water-salinity issues of the Murray-Darling Basin, in the hope of working towards more sustainable policies now and into the future. We recognise that this is an issue of national urgency, not only in the Basin, but in the whole of eastern Australia. A Water Circle of interested and concerned people has been formed. Victoria Kearney has been engaged as Project Worker. We have met about four times and engaged in processes that cover the material below.

We now offer this reflection we have prepared and invite you to join with us so that together we can move towards an adequate response. We urge you to give priority to reflecting on these issues during National Water Care Week, 19-25 October ( You might like to gather a few people together to participate in this reflection and discussion.

To assist you, we offer you this reflective/educative process to use, either on your own or in a group.


Go to running water in a river or water course
OR play music or a sound track of nature sounds and running water
OR play the track of Deep Water, written and recorded by Trisha Watts.
Gather around a bowl of water, taken from a water course near you if possible.

Deep water flowing,
Calling all to follow,
Watching, listening, waiting,
Silence finds a home.

(Tricia Watts)

Gathering Prayer

Creator God,
whose Spirit moved over the face of the waters,
who gathers the seas into their places,
and directs the courses of the rivers,
who sends rain upon the earth that it should bring forth life:
we praise you for the gift of water.
Create in us such a sense of wonder and delight in this and all your gifts,
that we might receive them with gratitude, care for them with love,
and generously share them with all your creatures,
to the honour and glory of your holy name.

(World Council of Churches Prayer Services)


  • Have a good look at the map of the Murray-Darling Basin below – where do you live in relation to the basin? Who do you know who lives within the basin?
  • What do you know about the water-sustainability issues of the Murray-Darling Basin?
  • Who do you know personally who is affected by these issues?


Land Degradation, Water/Land Salinity and Water Quality Issues of the Murray-Darling Basin

  • Land degradation occurs because of the lack of adequate vegetation cover resulting in soil erosion by wind and water and the stripping of topsoil by wind and rain, occasional torrential rains and severe wind storms.
  • Water salinity - The salts come from the weathering of the rocks, from many of the groundwaters, and from salt deposited over thousands of years by precipitation. The natural flora and fauna are adapted to the conditions, but the exacerbation of these conditions as a result of human activities has created a totally different situation. High salinity levels in water are causing significant problems for all users, agricultural, domestic and industrial.
  • Land Salinisation occurs naturally in parts of the Murray-Darling Basin in the form of saline seepages and scalds. Secondary or induced salinisation, resulting from European-type land use activities, is of concern. Removal of the native grasses, shrubs and trees have also changed the natural water balance. The removal of the deep rooted native vegetation and its replacement largely by shallow rooted annual crops and pastures has resulted in a significant reduction in water use and increased quantities being added to groundwaters.
  • Water Quality - Over much of the Basin, the natural quality of the water, is not high - it is a naturally saline environment. The deterioration of water quality is a result of human activities. Water quality is critically dependent on the uses to which the land drained by a river is put. It is then that water quality can rightly be regarded as a measure of the health of the catchment.



  • Why are Murray-Darling land degradation, water/land salinity and water quality issues of concern to you?
  • What do you believe or value that urges you on to do something about these issues?

Please refer to the box on the right containing values named by the members of the SAO Water Circle which motivate them to keep working towards influencing more sustainable policies.

These are helpful links that you might like to follow up:

Social Action Office - Living Sustainably
Water for Life: In Defense of our "Sister Water" (Franciscan Justice and Peace & Integrity of Creation)
A New Earth (Social Justice Statement 2002) - PDF document
Catholic Earthcare Australia
Catholic Conservation Center


  • Every species has a right to water. Ecosystems are being affected from being deprived;
  • Water is a natural resource and belongs to all. It needs to be accessible to all. It is part of the common good;
  • The incredible Murray-Darling Basin begins in Queensland and impacts on those who live all along it;
  • Water, more than any other natural resource, connects us with the environment, our health, our food, our spirit;
  • Earth and water have their origin and continued existence in the divine and mediate the divine. Our spirituality is impoverished when it is not healthy.

Why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water?
Because by water all things subsist.
Because water brings forth grass and living things.
Because the water of the showers comes down in one form,
but works in many forms: it becomes white in the lily, red in the rose,
purple in violets and hyacinths, different and varied in each species.
It is one thing in the palm tree, yet another in the vine,
and yet in all things the same Spirit.

(Elizabeth Johnson referring to reflections of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem)


  • What do you know about policies and strategies that relate to water-sustainability issues?

Please refer to the text box summarising key Federal and Queensland policies that relate to water quality and salinity issues in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Key Federal and Queensland Policies

  • The National Water and Salinity Action Plan and the National Water Quality Management Strategy: These are federal policies aimed at influencing State and local government policy and regulations around the management of land and water.
  • Council of Australian Government (CoAG) Intergovernmental Agreements - The Water Reform Agreement (1994) and the Proposed National Water Initiative: These are implemented using a principle of mutual obligation – a partnership across State and Federal boundaries to attempt to develop standarised regulation of water and water use across Australia.
  • National Competition Policy 1995: All Australian governments agreed to implement a series of initiatives designed to improve the competitiveness of the national economy.
  • The Queensland Competition Authority Act 1997 (QCA): Arising out of CoAG agreements this Act aims to forge a national approach to the implementation of competition policy.
  • Queensland Water Act 2000 (water and wastewater management).
  • State regional planning legislation and catchment management legislation.

Some helpful websites that you might like to follow up:


  • Which of the Social Action Office’s concerns about these policies and strategies do you identify with?

SAO’s Concerns

  • Protection and greed exist side by side and are the basis for national and international conflict and the Federal Government agenda is being driven by an international economic agenda. The impact of this must be examined and taken into account prior to the finalisation of the National Water Initiative.
  • Poor people and women are the most affected by scarcity of water and by radical policy changes, even when these are about better water management.
  • There are concerns about quality, access, policy conflicts and the effects of corporatisation and possible privatisation of water. Responsible and forward planning in all areas and by all levels of government is urgently needed.
  • The social and economic impacts of policies and decisions regarding water must be assessed to ensure social and environmental justice.
  • There is a need for a balance between participation in decision-making at the local/regional level, and the formulation of national policy “for the common good”. Sound policy needs to established for cross border and integrated catchment management. Policies for this need to be established in such a way that they cannot be changed or slowed by a change of government at a Federal or State level.

My Mother’s land can be dry and harsh.
Yet every tree, every cluster of rocks,
mountain, waterhole, river, cave
is sacred - every feature.
The billabongs and the places where the spirits live
are all landscapes of the soul.
For we, as people, see these mountains,
rivers, trees, animals, wind
as brothers and sisters,
and we are part of the one thing.

(Maisie Cavanagh, Koori woman, Sydney)


  • What “word” rises in you as the result of this reflection and discussion?

Please type your “word” in the Water for Life box below and indicate if and how you would like to be further involved in the deliberations and the campaign preparations of the Water Circle, e.g. by being on the email list; by having a buddy within the Water Circle who will keep contact with you, etc.

When you have completed the form, click SUBMIT TO SAO (by 31 October 2003 please).

Water for Life
Your "word"
Where you live (Town/City and State)
Would you like to be further involved?


If so, how?

Being on the email list
Having a buddy in the Water Circle

Any comments or other suggestion/s?
If you selected YES above, what is your email address?
(Click here for our Privacy Policy)
Your name (if YES selected)


Creator God,
we thank you for water and for the great rivers that nourish our whole beings.
We thank you for the Murray-Darling Basin that covers fourteen percent of Australia’s land mass.
We ask you to strengthen our resolve to prevent further degradation of this mighty river system and all the beings who dwell within its basin.
Bring healing and peace and give us hearts that remember those who are to come after us.
We make this prayer in the name of God,
Creator and healer of all that is.

Sprinkle yourself or each other with water from the bowl and acknowledge the life-giving qualities of water:

Water has always been the sign of life. Our Aboriginal ancestors living in this, the driest of continents, knew this only too well. All through history, water has been a symbol of the presence of the Creator Spirit. We now sprinkle with water, knowing that life is a blessing, and will continue to gift us all.

(Murri Ministry, Brisbane)


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