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Costs of salinity

Several studies have estimated the costs of salinity. However, these estimates can vary because the methods used to estimate the costs are different, or, they cover different geographical boundaries or time frames.

In 1999, the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council estimated the cost of lost agricultural production in Australia due to dryland salinity was $130 million each year and increasing. This figure underestimated the total costs, because it did not include ecological and social costs. These costs are harder to quantify but are significant.

The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council's Murray-Darling Basin Salinity Audit 1999 (PDF 1.4MB), suggested, that as a general rule, the total costs, including agricultural, infrastructure and environmental components, amounted to approximately $1 million each year for every 5,000 hectares of visibly affected land.

However, in a more recent study by S M Wilson (2003), the cost of dryland salinity for the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin was reported to be about $305 million per annum. This includes costs to dryland agricultural producers ($98 million) and costs to households, commerce and industry ($143 million), but excludes the costs of salinity damage to the environment and cultural heritage. It shows that in many catchments, it is the costs of salinity to households, businesses and public infrastructure - and not the costs from lost agricultural production - that make the largest contribution to total costs. It is now becoming apparent that dryland salinity is a costly problem for:

  • local governments
  • urban and rural households
  • commercial and industrial businesses
  • State Government agencies and utilities
  • the environment, and
  • cultural heritage.

A booklet developed under the Local Government Salinity Initiative, titled Costs of urban salinity, provides a review of the literature and an analysis of existing information on the economics of urban salinity.

Figure 1: Breakdown of current dryland and urban salinity costs across
the Murray-Darling Basin, by major stakeholder group

Total dryland and urban salinity costs - Households (33%), Dryland agricultural producer (25%), Commerce and industry (21%), State Government agencies and utilities (11%) and Local government (10%)

Source: Wilson (2003) (Paper presented at the 2003 PUR$L conference).

Page last updated: 11 October 2013