Interfaith Dialogue – Water in our Spiritual Traditions

Empty farm dam in the Goulburn Valley

At the February 2012 meeting of the Shepparton Interfaith Network, there was an Interfaith Dialogue on "Water in our Spiritual Traditions".

Introduction - Water and the Goulburn Valley

The Goulburn Valley (and most of Victoria) has recently emerged from 13 years of drought, which had significant impact our living and our livelihoods here in this region where economic survival depends on a reliable supply of water. Primary Industries experienced water restrictions for a lengthy period of time, as did homes and families. Not far away from our region, some reservoirs—such as Sunday Creek—were bereft of water and the surrounding towns (such as Broadford) were on Stage 5 (highest) water restrictions.

Water means many things to us as human beings. We drink water, we cleanse the body with water, we may bathe and swim in water, we use it in our washing machines, and we use it to sluice sewage. We reduce the temperature of water to make ice and then we may place it in our drink to make it cool and satisfying. We use water to extinguish fire, and the Country Fire Authority, in times of bushfire, uses quick-fill from farm dams and roadside supplies to protect the community. Our very bodies are 98% water, and our Earth is two-thirds covered by the waters of the oceans.

Here in the Goulburn Valley, one might say we are a river people, dependent on the flow of waters in the Murray River and the Goulburn River, on the waters that are piped to use for drinking, and on the waters that are released into irrigation channels, for our continued subsistence on what is called a "flat rivarine plain".

Irrigation Channel in the Goulburn Valley

A frequent image of water is the farm dam, with the hoof-prints of cattle and sheep around the edges. We have seen cattle and sheep surrounding dams, drinking, and we have seen empty farm dams with their hard, dried-out, clay - cracked surfaces and wonder about the impressions of hooves surrounding these dams.

When we drive along some roads in this region, on one side of the road the farm paddocks may be lush and green, with irrigation; the other side of the road the farm land can be yellow, perhaps bare in places and the only thing poking up from the ground are the weeds! Windmills appear on the horizon in many places, with water troughs nearby. We frequently see farm irrigation channels and cross flows of water, pass by water wheels with their solar panels and electronically operated sluices. We drive along floodways, dips and cross many small bridges, muddy creeks and perhaps, sometimes, Pranjip Creek where, in the past, the indigenous peoples of this area conducted their initiations of young men into manhood.

Irrigation to farm using solar energy

Irrigation to farm using solar energy to operate locks

We dam water up, we store it in lakes, weirs and basins; we have the Hume Dam, the Yarrawonga Weir, Torrumbarry Weir. Closer to home we have Lake Nillahcootie, Lake Eildon, the Goulburn Weir, the Waranga Basin, Greens Lake, and nearby Bendigo, there is Lake Eppalock in the Campaspe system.

We have locks and barrages on the Murray River; the flow of water is controlled and distributed for irrigation. Our town water is piped from Lake Eildon; In early February of 2012, Lake Eildon storage is at 93.5%; the Hume Dam is 67% filled, Yarrawonga Weir is 96% full and Torrumbarry Weir is 100% filled. Closer to home, Lake Nillahcootie is at 93% storage, the Goulburn Weir is 97% filled, Waranga Basin is at 59% and nearer to Bendigo, Lake Eppalock is at 89% of storage capacity. While the Murray-Goulburn system may appear to be going through good times and plenty, water restrictions were applied to Melbourne on the 1st of December 2011, and are still in place.

Our farmers receive annual water allocations, and there is buying and selling of allocations surplus to requirements in times of plenty. Rainfall is watched most carefully by those who have dairies, who run stock on land or manage orchards.

Irrigation Channel in the Goulburn Valley

The Environmental Protection Authority has two working policies in place; water quality objectives for rivers and streams (many people go fishing!) and biological objectives to afford prevention of contamination of water supplies, with particular reference to rivers and streams. Clean drinking water is something that is might be taken for granted.

Water is a means of Industry, of cleanliness, of sustenance, and is a critical element in the Goulburn Valley which we love and cherish and make our homes and eke our daily bread. It also has its sacred uses in many of our religious communities. In some of our sacred traditions, water may be a sign of the love and presence of the Divine.

Our meeting explored teachings on water in the scriptures of several religions. Additional sharing and reflections will be posted here shortly.

Read the Christian tradition on Living Water

Read selections from the Quran on water

Read reflections on water in Hinduism

Read excerpts on water from Sikhism.

Image Credits: Shepparton Interfaith Network, ABC Rural


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