In late June 2017 it was announced in a press release from the Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee of the Victorian Parliament that there was to be an inquiry held into “The management, governance and use of environmental water”.
The committee's terms of reference are;
That the Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee inquire into the Victorian Environmental Water Holder annual report 2015-16 and report, no later than June 2018, into the management, governance and use of environmental water in Victoria including, but not limited to —
the assessment of the role of environmental water management in preventing or causing ‘blackwater’ events;
how environmental water and environmental water managers interact with, and utilise, management tools such as carryover and whether the carryover of environmental water impacts on the availability of water for irrigators;
consideration of what barriers exist to the more efficient use of environmental water and how these may be addressed; and
assessment of fees and charges applied to environmental water and whether these differ from those imposed on other water users.
A reading of Hansard has revealed that the impetus for the inquiry has come from a National Party member in the north of the state where there has historically been some questions raised over the use and extent of environmental flows. We have put together summary of the exchange in Hansard on the 10th of May 2017 which can be found here. It is long but worth the read.
As a group which fought hard for environmental flows the Moorabool River PALM members are very keen to ascertain if the small gains that were acheived for the most flow-stressed river in the State are at risk.
Update August 2017
PALM has made a submission to the inquiry which can be found at the following links;
On a recent Sunday members of PALM interviewed Alison Pouliot and Tim Fletcher for our upcoming film on the Moorabool River. Alison is a freshwater ecologist and environmental photographer; Tim is a Professor of Urban Ecohydrology at the University of Melbourne. Both have research experience with the Moorabool River, and Tim also has been involved in the design and monitoring of several large-scale pilot green infrastructure projects in both Australia and France. We met at the Mollongghip Hall for a picnic lunch under a shady tree and an fascinating in-depth chat about water issues and the Moorabool River. Then we drove into the nearby Wombat Forest to film the interviews. Many thanks to Tim and Alison for making the day a great success by giving up their valuable time and contributing their views and experience to the film.
Production of the film is progressing well and we will soon travel again through the Moorabool catchment to do more filming of important sites. The film is being made by She Oaks Films, who produced the earlier film on the Moorabool, "Lost Waters", released in 2008. We will notify supporters when the film is to be released.
On the 31st of January the CCMA presented the proposed annual watering plan for the Moorabool River. The meeting was held in the Meredith Hall and was attended by representatives from both water authorities and community groups.
A representative from the Environmental Water Holder's office was in attendance. The CCMA manages the environmental allocation in Lal Lal on their behalf.
News that the entitlement was now over 7000ML after being down to around 750ML during last year was welcome news. There was some discussion around timing a January flow to assist short-finned eel migration in early January next year and also around how much water to keep in reserve for following years if there were limited inflows.
PALM would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the CCMA and particularly Saul Vereemen for being proactive in including non-agency groups in the decisions around flows for the Moorabool river. Collaborations like these hopefully mean we get the best result possible for this beautiful but stricken river.
On Wednesday the 7th of December PALM coordinator Cameron Steele accompanied two Barwon Water members on a tour of the Moorabool River, one from the Water Resources Team the the other their Catchment Officer.
The river at Batesford Bridge was our first stop. Water was flowing through the second gate at the weir but was still alarmingly low considering the rains we had in the weeks leading up to the day. We then walked to the Belchers Pool. It is always amazing to think of this tranquil setting being so close to the edge of a large city like Geelong.
It was then on to the Stray's place where we were joined by Peter and shown the magnificent river gully at the foot of the family property. Thankfully there were some flows to highlight the beauty of this special spot.
Lunch at a Meredith cafe allowed us to present PALM's position on passing flows and to reinforce just how vital cooperation between the CCMA and Barwon Water had been for getting flows that would benefit the lower Moorabool.
The group then drove down to look at the pool at Cooper's Bridge as earlier plans to visit Steep Point were abandoned due to time constrains.
PALM would like to thank both gentlemen for taking the time to come and experience the Moorabool River, even for just a few hours. Both were suitably impressed. They showed a genuine interest in learning more about the challenges the river faces and hopefully have a better understanding of what PALM is trying to achieve to repair the Moorabool.
On Thursday the 17th of May 2016, the pipeline to the Golden Plains Food Production Precinct was officially opened. The dignitaries included Cr Des Phelan, Mayor, Golden Plains Shire, Jo Plummer, Chair, Barwon Water, and Ms Sarah Henderson Federal MP for Corangamite,
To the intensive animal farming industry, this would have been a welcome announcement, but for many who know of the desperate plight of the Moorabool River it represented water moving out of the catchment and another blow to the prospects of relieving the flow stress of the most over-allocated river in the state.
If the water had come, as some thought it might, via a connection with Geelong, or a recycled source, many people would have applauded the project. However, that is not where the water is drawn. It comes directly from the Moorabool River. While Barwon Water is quick to say there will be no increase in its Bulk Entitlements, it will have to almost certainly more fully exploit those allocations because of this scheme.
How much water will be removed from the Moorabool River each year to supply the Precinct when fully developed?
According to the report commissioned by the Golden Plains Shire Investing in Intensive Agriculture' (September 2006), the answer is 900ML per year. This volume is equal to completely emptying the She Oaks Weir (pictured) of every drop of water every 2 months. It also represents about 75% of the average annual amount of water released from the Lal Lal Reservoir by Barwon Water over the last 5 years.
In their 2012-2062 Water Supply Demand Strategy (page 43) Barwon Water addressed community concerns about the authority's reliance on such a flow stressed river;
"The Moorabool system will contribute a smaller percentage of our water supply as new sources are commissioned. However when water is available in the Moorabool system, it provides drinking water at a low cost to customers." (Click here for full report)
If this 'low cost drinking water' from the Moorabool River is now being diverted to broiler farms and piggeries it stands to reason it will need to be sourced it from somewhere more expensive, thus inevitably forcing pressure on water bills for families in Geelong.
How much weight was given to the condition of the Moorabool River by the proponents?
Investing in Intensive Agriculture' (September 2006), which underpins this project, states:
"There are two main reservoirs in the Moorabool system. The White Swan Reservoir in the north (fed by the East Moorabool system)and the Lal Lal Reservoir in the south (fed by the West Moorabool system)." (Click here for full report)
The White Swan Reservior is in fact fed by the West not the East Moorabool system. In our opinion the report showed, in a number of instances, inadequate understanding of the Moorabool River systems and was practically devoid of any real acknowledgement of the parlous condition of the river.
The Golden Plains Shire web site claims;
"The 'Investing in Intensive Agriculture' (September 2006) report proposes a $11.4 million infrastructure project to provide a dedicated water supply to intensive farm operations in the Shelford-Meredith corridor, while freeing up the local reticulated water supply for small communities such as Lethbridge."
It is difficult to understand what water would be 'freed up'.
Questions for Barwon Water.
Given your position “The Moorabool system will contribute a smaller percentage of our water supply as new sources are commissioned. However when water is available in the Moorabool system, it provides drinking water at a low cost to customers.”
- How does the precinct development fit in with your commitment to the Moorabool River?
- If such 'low cost drinking water' is now to be used to service piggeries and broiler farms where is Barwon Water looking to source drinking water to replace these volumes?
- Is that source going to be more expensive than water from the Moorabool River?
- If those sources will cost more how will this impact the water bills of ordinary Geelong families?
- Were the growing volumes of water available from the Bannockburn Treatment Plant considered as a water source for this project? If not why not?
Questions for the Golden Plains Shire Council
A local farmer on the Lower Moorabool thinks that “This is just another case of water leaving the catchment and not being available to us.”
- How hard has the council lobbied for less water to be taken from the Moorabool river by water authorities like Barwon Water so that both the environment and the existing farms and businesses in the Lower Moorabool can have better water security?
- What response does the council have to the farmers and businesses in the lower Moorabool who are restricted in the times they can pump from the river because of continuing low flows?
- Did the council make a submission to the State Government's recent Water Plan Discussion Paper on behalf of those farms and businesses or the environment? If not why not?
- What measures will the Council take to ensure that world's best practice water efficiency and reuse is adopted within the precinct?
- How does this project supposedly 'free up' the local reticulated water supply for small communities such as Lethbridge?
Question for Sarah Henderson MP
You officially opened the pipeline to the Precinct on the 17th of May. Six years ago, as the then candidate for Corangamite, you met with locals at the river and were very supportive of efforts to lobby for increased environmental flows for the Moorabool River.
- Given the increased commercial demand for water from the Moorabool, such as through the Intensive Agriculture Precint, where do you envisage this increase in environmental flows will come from?
It should be remembered that water for this Precinct is mainly harvested high in the Moorabool catchment and is channeled and piped to the storage on the Midland highway. Water taken by users in the lower section of the Moorabool has instead travelled most of the length of the river, sustaining the environment as it passes.
It is understandable that some might take the view that this new project is a trade off - guaranteeing water to broiler farms and piggeries outside the catchment at the expense of improved water security for existing farms and other businesses in the Lower Moorabool.
Organised by Peter Gell from Federation University the Australian Society of Limnologists 2016 conference was held in Ballarat over 5 days from the 26th and several tours were offered.
On the 29th of September PALM with fish expert Lance Lloyd from Lloyd Environmental Pty Ltd had the pleasure of taking a bus load of limnologists on a tour of the Moorabool River.
Peter and Cameron Steele had done a scout of the catchement a couple of weeks prior but swelling numbers forced a change of plan as a tour bus had to be organised. In the end we visited Hunt's Bridge, Dolly's Creek, and Cooper's Bridge. Some of those attending were lucky enough to spot a platypus at the guaging station below Hunt's.
Thanks go to Barbra Baird who brought along her measurments and photographs from Cooper's and to Stuart McCallum for his support.
Ultimately it was a great chance to spead the word about the plight of this great river and gain fresh insights for our continuing campaign to get good results for it.
After a few long nights we have finally managed to go live with the first of the map sets we have been creating for the Moorabool River.
This is one showing the named rivers and creeks within the catchment and includes the pipes and dams of the water authorities.
Hopefully these visualisations will help orientating people.
More to come.
As the title suggests the Moorabool River Flow-dependent Vegetation & Habitat Refuge Pool Mapping Project seeks to survey, analyse and map flow-dependent vegetation and habitat refuge pools in the Moorabool River,
Implemented by the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority the project aims to undertake an assessment of the river reaches between Lal Lal and the confluence with the Barwon River, to locate priority vegetation stands considering ecological/floristic values, and to establish vegetation monitoring sites and baseline condition at priority vegetation stands to assess effectiveness of environmental water delivery over-time.
Also to conduct a Habitat Refuge Pool (HRP) assessment and mapping including assigning each pool a resilience ranking to support drought contingency planning for environmental water use.
On September the 12th 2016 PALM coordinator Cameron Steele accompanied Saul and Anthony from the CCMA to scope for pools to be included in the survey. Spot visited were pools at Batesford, Russell's Bridge, Maude, a large pool below Sharpes Bridge, more pools and weirs below the She Oaks Weir and significant pools above and below Coopers Bridge.
The interest lay primarily in pools that did not dry out during the Millennial Drought. Light rain did not dampen the enthusiasm although there were some pretty wet feet by the end of the day.
PALM welcomes the continued focus of water and management authorities on this struggling river and hope they drive just outcomes for both it and the species dependent upon it.
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