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.
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.
Submissions are now closed to the Water for Victoria discussion paper.
Congratulations to all the groups and individuals who took the time to respond on behalf of the Moorabool River.
It case was also put to the leaders within the Water Plan team.
The final plan is expected to be released mid this year but many will continue to lobby the government.
Water for Victoria discussion paper and what it meant for the Moorabool River
The Moorabool River has been acknowledged by successive State governments as one of the most flow stressed in Victoria. Some summers up to 90% of its flow is extracted by water authorities and irrigators. Collated figures from the latest Water Accounts report reveals the Moorabool Basin as the most over-allocated in the state.
The Central Region Sustainable Water Strategy (CRSWS) released by the Bracks Government in 2006 recognised the dire state of the Moorabool River. It found that “environmental flows would need to be enhanced by about 20,000ML to meet scientific environmental flow recommendations”.
The then government committed to providing 6000 ML of water flows by 2015, made up of 2500 ML entitlement as an Environmental Reserve from the Lal Lal Reservoir, 3000 ML from the quarry at Fyansford and 500 ML through a buy-back scheme.
Although relatively small it wass the Environmental Reserve in Lal Lal that was the most vital to the health of the Moorabool River. Managed on behalf of the Environmental Water Holder by the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA) it has often been piggybacked on releases by Barwon Water which has meant flows to the lower sections of the Moorabool.
The Barwon Water Bulk Entitlement from Lal Lal is up to 17,775ML per 3 year period. It flows from the Lal Lal Reservoir down 30kms of river to the authority's off-take at She Oaks. It is vital in its own right to the ecosystems along this high value section of the river but it also serves to carry Environmental Reserve releases so they can continue past the She Oaks Weir and impact the 70 kms of river to the confluence with the Barwon River.
The Water for Victoria Discussion Paper issued by the current state government talked about increasing environmental flows in the Moorabool River but Minister Lisa Neville had also flagged a transfer of Geelong's allocation in Lal Lal to Ballarat.
"Ballarat and Geelong currently both have access to water in Lal Lal Reservoir. Geelong has an interconnecter which means that city will be able to access water form Melbourne’s water pool, which could allow Ballarat to access more water in the Lal Lal Reservoir as Geelong will be compensated through its interconnector with water from Melbourne’s system."
It was hard to see how this would be anything other than a disaster for the lower sections of the Moorabool since it must, on the face of it, mean less flow in a river that is barely being kept alive. It would have dramatically lessen the effectiveness of any environmental releases.
This became a huge level of concern both for those who live along the river and others who also deeply care for its future.
An alliance of Landcare and community groups joined to lobby for the Moorabool River. In order to inform the community at large about the possible impacts of the Water Plan they organised an information night in Meredith Hall on Tuesday the 12th of April 2016. It attracted over 100 people wanting more information about proposed changes flagged in the Water Plan. The presenters were Saul Vermeeren from the CCMA, Cameron Steele from People for A living Morrabool whose presentation can be accessed here, and Angus Ramsey from Southern Rural Water.
Page 45 of the Water for Victoria Discussion Paper speaks of;
"reconfirming the environmental water recovery targets in the Central Region Sustainable Water Strategy and identifying options to meet existing shortfalls with local communities and stakeholders in the Moorabool, Barwon, Werribee and Maribyrnong Rivers"
The future recovery targets for the Moorabool River had been set out on page 74 of the 2006 CRSW Stategy. They detailed 14,000ML of water that could be left in the river given alternative supplies for Ballarat and Geelong. Both cities now have access to other sources of water. It was time to make sure that these augmentations could enable stress to have been taken off our highly over-allocated Moorabool River.
However after meeting with DELWP officials we learnt that despite the wording these are not on the table as options that are going to be included in the Water Plan. In our view this is completely unacceptable. A lot of time and effort was put in to formulating a path that would see more water being rightly left in this highly stress river. Abandoning these recovery targets is wrong.
People were invited to make a submission to the Water for Victoria discussion paper as well as writing to their local member or the Minister herself.
Water Plan Project Team
Water and Catchments Group
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
Level 10, 8 Nicholson St
East Melbourne 3002
Hon Lisa Neville
Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water
Level 17, 8 Nicholson Street, East Melbourne, VIC 3002
(03) 9637 9654
Further resources were provided for submissions
Table of allocations in the major River Basins in Victoria
Figures taken from the Victoria Water Accounts 2013-14 which clearly show why the Moorabool Basin is the most overallocated in the state.
Ballarat and region’s water future
Selected quotes from an inititive of the previous Victorian government showing recognition of the state of the Moorabool River and a willingness to explore ways of leaving more water in it.
Moorabool River Environmental Water Management Plan Draft Version 2.3
Sections of the plan detailing scientifically validated environmental water requirements for the Moorabool River.
Central Region Sustainable Water Strategy - Chapter 4
Chapter 4 of the CRSWS which details future water recovery options for the Moorabool River
Victorian Water Accounts 2013–2014
Link to the full document
A number of community groups, landcare organisations and individuals took the time to write submissions and put the case for the Moorabool. We now await the final Water Plan to see how this government will respond to the very dire condition of this magnificent river.
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