Dying Moorabool River needs big drinks of water
22 June 2021
Film premiere on Saturday 26 June in Ballarat
A film promoting more water flows for the Moorabool River will have its world premiere in Ballarat on Saturday 26th June. There will be another launch in Geelong on Saturday the 3rd of July.
“the River Moorabool” was made by People for A Living Moorabool (PALM) and Sheoaks Films. It features local landowners, scientists, and healthy river advocates, as well a spectacular and wide-ranging views of the Moorabool river valley and catchment.
Cameron Steele, the coordinator of PALM, says that the health of the Moorabool River and its wildlife are being damaged because so much of the river’s water is taken for human use or not allowed to get into the river.
“By the time, the Moorabool reaches the Barwon at Geelong, about 90% of its original natural flow has been trapped in water authority reservoirs and farm dams, and taken from groundwater.”
“the River Moorabool” explores the consequences of this dramatic demand for the catchment’s water, especially in the face of climate change. Interviewees call for alternative water supplies for Ballarat and Geelong to reduce the pressure on the Moorabool so more water can flow down the river. Cameron Steele wants investigation of: the recycling and reuse of urban run-off and waste water; and, desalination.
The film encourages citizens to ‘get stroppy’ and tell their politicians that ruining the Moorabool is not acceptable.
You can watch the official trailer for “the River Moorabool” on the internet @ https://vimeo.com/349830144
The Age Newspaper on the 17th of June publish an article about the film which can be found here:
“the River Moorabool” will be shown in:
Ballarat on Saturday 26 June from 7pm
at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute, 117-119 Sturt St,
Geelong on Saturday 3 July from 7pm
at the Peter Thwaites Lecture Theatre,
Deakin University, Waurn Ponds Campus.
Tickets ($16.50 each) are available from Eventbrite – see eventbrite.com.au or scan the Ballarat or Geelong flow code using your mobile phone:
Each screening of “the River Moorabool” will be followed by a panel discussion. Screenings are planned for Bannockburn and Ballan.
Film posters below.
The Moorabool River is recognised as the most over-allocated and flow stressed river in Victoria with flows at its mouth being reduced by 90%.
It has huge amounts of water drawn from it each year to supply the cities of Ballarat and Geelong along many smaller towns in between. The region's largest water utility reservoir sits at its center.
The aquifer supplying the river at its head is heavily mined for water via groundwater bores. It is deemed over allocated and reduces the flow in some of the Moorabool's streams by 70%.
Its catchment has more farm dams per square kilometre than any other river basin in the State holding the equivalent of 23% of its annual inflows.
Over the last 15 years the Moorabool has suffered the largest decline in water runoff due to climate change than any other river basin in central and southern Victoria.
To top everything else off it is now facing having 60% of its environmental flows stripped from it within the decade when the pumps at the Fyansford Quarry likely to be shut down.
We need your help to give voice to the plight of this highly stressed river and to help halt its decline.
Right now its future is being decided at a high level through the updating of the Sustainable Water Strategy (SWS). The original Strategy set out a framework for leaving more water in our most stricken rivers and it was used extensively by advocates like PALM to get better outcomes for them. We desperately need this update to be even more courageous particularly given the serious impacts of our changing climate.
The community members and advocacy groups have two chances to give input. The first is right now through the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning's Engage Vic portal which can be found here:
The second opportunity will be when the draft Strategy comes out in early July. PALM and others will be campaigning strongly over the subsequent two months supported by an excellent film called The River Moorabool which will have a release in both Ballarat and Geelong around that time.
Link to Official Trailer of “The River Moorabool”: www.vimeo.com/349830144
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The Fyansford limestone quarry is the last large human degradation of the Moorabool River before it joins the Barwon River near Geelong. The river was diverted twice for the quarry - first to create it 100 years ago; later to expand it. The concrete diversion channel destroyed the original ecology and flow of that stretch of the river.
Combined with declining flows in the system, the link to the estuarine environment and the sea for important migratory species is often lost for periods vital to their longterm survival.
The Moorabool River now loses up to 10 Million litres per day in seepage due to foregone base flows and the poor condition of the older works. Much of this seepage ends up in the quarry.
Dewatering the quarry sees up to 3,500 million litres per year pumped back into the river downstream. The Victorian Government classes this as an environmental flow for what is regarded as the most flow stressed river in the state.
The quarry's pumps will be turned off in the not too distant future. The current issues already facing this reach of the river will be greatly magnified when this happens.
The first river diversion occurred in the 1930s. The new path of the river was over a former spoil ground so a large section of it required concreting. Within a few years the concrete started to fail and water began draining from the river into the underlying spoil, much of it ending up in the quarry. Now the disrepair is so dramatic the river requires nearly 10 million litres per day of flow to make its way past this reach of the river.
The water pools in several major breaks in its bed and as they dry out large numbers of fish can be trapped and ultimately without intervention will perish. Corangamite staff and quarry staff regularly work to save trapped fish from these fast drying depressions.
The second diversion occurred in the 1980s and is still mostly intact. However much of its length is of slab sided concrete construction. There is little opportunity for terrestrial fauna to access the river and little shade provided. Without flows the water becomes heated and with tepid temperatures combining with stagnate sections it becomes unconductive to native instream species. This section however does benefit from the current discharges from the quarry.
This section at least has the benefit of pumping volumes from the quarry as the outlet at its start.
City of Greater Geelong
The City of Greater Geelong has recently undertaken a panel process to determine the manner in which housing development of the area will proceed. This included proposals for the quarry to become a showcase lake. The Panel heard from experts that seepage from the river was around 100 million litres a year. This was deemed implausable by those who know this section of the river and the CCMA commissioned a study to assess the true state of water losses.
The latest study
Lance Lloyd of LloydEnvironmental along with Professor Peter Delhaus, a ground water expert from Federation University completed the study in mid 2020. It found losses experienced by the Moorabool River through the lowering of the water table and seepage from its bed amounted to on average of over 5 million liters per day.
"The flow data provided demonstrates that losses in the Lower Moorabool can be expected to occur in a magnitude of approximately 3 to 20 ML/day (median of 5.14 ML/d)."
This amounts to over 1800 million litres per year. In comparison the entire environmental flow allocated from the Lal Lal Dam to the Moorabool River amounts to 2,500 million litres per annum.
It should be noted this figure is 15 times the rate presented by expert witnesses to the City of Greater Geelong Panel Hearing who stated a figure from a study by Nolan of 102 million litres per year.
They also came to the conclusion that even when the quarry finally fills it remains unlikely that base flows into the Moorabool River will return to normal or that it will stop losing water.
The study summary can be found here; https://ccma.vic.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Fact-Sheet-Lower-Moorabool-River-Final-3-July-2020_CCM_Sharon-1.pdf
Ref: Lloyd, L.N., Clarke, S. and Dahlhaus, P. 2020. Final Report of the Lower Moorabool River Groundwater and FLOWS Project (CCMA Project No. 1731). LE report to Corangamite CMA. Lloyd Environmental, Somers, Victoria.
People for A Living Moorabool are calling on the State Government, quarry operators, water authorities, the EPA, Councils and developers to do the following:
1. To agree to a management plan which puts the interests of the Moorabool River at the forefront of any future use of the site.
2. To ensure that the 1930s diversion is replaced with an impervious structure capable of preventing further losses of river flows to the underlying substrates.
3. That a modified pumping regime continue after the quarry is decommissioned designed to match the current losses from the river.
4. That no net water from the Moorabool River, the most flow stressed in Victoria, be used to fill the quarry.
5. That the outlet of the pumped water from the quarry be moved from its current position to a site upstream of the first diversion.
On the 17th of December 2019 PALM members had the pleasure of hosting Libby Coker MP for a tour of a couple of spots on the Moorabool River.
Despite still recovering from illness Libby was prepared to scramble through some of the less accessible areas to at least get some feel for the river and the beauty it still holds.
Therefore a big thank you to both Libby and Leigh for joining us to hear about the issues impacting arguably the State's most flow-stressed river the Moorabool. Unfortunately even with the modest environmental flows that were secured over a decade ago this is still a dying system.
Over allocation and extraction has seen the original 90ML per day that this river would have enjoyed at Batesford near its confluence with the Barwon had been reduced to just 10ML, well before taking into account the further reducing flows from climate change. It will take a big effort from all of us to ensure this river has more water left in it by water authorities and others in order to give it some prospects of survival.
15 years ago the Central Region Sustainable Water Strategy flagged an 2,000ML for the Moorabool when Geelong moved to treating recycled water for potable use. For this river that can not happen soon enough and PALM is grateful for Libby's support in helping to make this happen. Hopefully our state government takes note.
In early May 2019 members of the Living Moorabool Project on which PALM sits were invited to join members of the Wadawurrung for a cultural day at a beautiful spot downstream of the Batesford Bridge.
The Colac Herald presented news this week of plans to pipe waste water from Black Rock Treatment Plant to refurnish 'at risk' lakes like Lake Colac.
At first glance this would seem like a worthy project, recycled water currently going into the ocean being put to better use.
However there are other water bodies at arguably far greater risk. The Moorabool River is recognised as the most flow stressed river in the state and the Barwon river is fast approaching a similar condition, ceasing to flow for several months this season. Both heavily impacted by over allocation of their water resources. Urban water authorities, bore field extractions, irrigators, and farm dams all play a part while climate change is playing an increasing role. These rivers already have a call on water freed up when recycled water is used to supplement drinking water supplies in the not too distant future.
The Victorian Government Central Region Sustainable Water Strategy has dictated the region's water policy for the last 15 years. It delivered small environmental allocations to both the Moorabool and Barwon rivers but recognised far more needed to be done. In spelling out future options “the substitution of potable water with treated recycled water” in Geelong and Ballarat was flagged to deliver an extra 6,500ML to the Moorabool River.It gave hope to people who had seen the Moorabool River increasingly struggling to survive year in year out.
Barwon Water is also seemingly committed to this path declaring one of their measures of success in 2023 to be; “We have engaged deeply with our customers and have general acceptance on the appropriateness of drinking high quality recycled water for long-term water supply opportunities (beyond 2030).”
If we as a country are intent on maintaining high levels of immigration to support our economy then it is obvious that drinking water will need to be supplemented by suitably treated recycled water. Many other countries around the world use this resource as a matter of course.
Extracting more from highly stressed waterways is not an option. Recycled water should be seen as a precious resource, requiring less energy to bring to drinking water standards than desalination, and the bulk of it should be retained as a future resource to sustain our growing towns and cities.
This will hopefully allow us to ease flow stress on some of the most over allocated rivers in the region. After all it is they which have historically supplied the majority of our drinking water. Assisting to rescue rivers like the Moorabool from an otherwise extremely bleak future needs to be the first port of call in any decisions on the potential uses of recycled water.
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