Stephen Powell returned to Geelong last year after living and working in Aboriginal communities in Far North Queensland. He is headed north again soon. After nearly 10 years away he had hoped to find his beloved Moorabool River in better condition than he had left it given at least a small environmental allocation had been secured for it. He visited his old fishing spots and found them devoid of the species that he once knew them for. He contacted People for a Living Moorabool to tell of his distress at the condition of the river.
These are his words.
My name is Steve Powell I have lived in Batesford for most of my life where the lower reaches of the Moorabool run through.
I would like to share with everyone the close links many people from all walks of life have had with this once magnificent river and the relationship the Moorabool River has with people's lives.
As a boy this river was my playground, fished and explored every nook and cranny of the Moorabool through and beyond Batesford. To be honest it is part of my soul and in a way created the person I am today.
But over the past 30 years I have watched it die due to massive demands placed on this beautiful river and to, in my view, the mismanagement of many government departments who exploited rather than looked after it.
There were plenty of favourite spots through Batesford where many people gathered to swim, fish, and just enjoy the beauty of the Moorabool River.
But for many years it would stop flowing and great sections became too dry too often. The fish life in these sections are all but gone from what I enjoyed as a boy. These large lengths were bone dry for many years in a row, breaking the link to upstream reaches and stopping migration of many species to the sea which they needed to spawn.
When I was young the quality of fishing in the Moorabool River brought a smile to my face, but now in these sections many species are dead. The once massive migration of eel elvers I once watched as a boy are gone. They were in their hundreds of thousands. It is enough to make you cry.
In my view the once magnificent Moorabool River will never return to its former glory and I have grave fears for its future.
Steve Powell January 2020
29th July 2018
It was a daunting forecast of strong winds but the rain that had been such a blessing for the river had abated somewhat so a visit was organised. There was only a single other car in the Lal Lal Falls car park and it was hard to hear any water over the wind.
A short walk to the lookout showed the falls were indeed in action and providing a spectacle. They were without the power seen when there has been substantial winter rain, but were no doubt adding to the reservoir, now over 75% full gaining 268ML over the last week. However it is still 10% down on last year's volume.
While there did seem to be some weed control at the reserve the blackberry loads are still substantial.
Despite a few showers we decided to do the walk into the Moorabool Falls. On the way we managed a brief explore up Salt Creek. The moss covering of the granite boulders gave it a fairytale feel but the many bones distributed around indicated plenty of fox activity.
There are many rock hollows along the creek along with blackberries combined to make it an attractive spot for lairs.
On the plus side there was an unexpected pool which by the look of the instream vegetation may well be perennial.
The Moorabool Falls had a reasonable flow, enough to make us think twice about attempting a crossing to make our way down to Granite Falls. A heavy shower and the late hour ultimately making the decision to turn back this time pretty easy.
It was good to see both falls in action. We still have a while to go for decent rain to replenish environmental water reserves but the likelihood of water over the spillway this winter is not great.
A fresh Moorabool "Secateur Sunday" has seen another section of a proposed river walk being explored, cleared and mapped near Meredith. There is still a lot of work to be done and the long grass at this time of year makes for a more cautious pace, but working close to a flowing Moorabool was pleasant.
Besides the major problem weed blackberries, gorse and thistles were also tackled.
A big thank you to Jeff who put in a big day despite suffering from hay fever. The restorative ales of the Meredith pub afterward were certainly welcome.
The aim in this initial stage is to have a walk pegged out that will take the experienced walkers from Coopers Bridge through to Slate Quarry Road.
Unfortunately a dumped car was found pushed over the side of the track at Slate Quarry Road. A message was left for the Meredith police who will hopefully deal with it soon.
While it has been generally accepted that the upper reaches of the Moorabool River have been spring fed there has always been some debate about whether or not the lower section would completely dry out under natural conditions.
It was therefore interesting to come across a newpaper article from the 1920s that talked about the river drying out for the "first time within the memory of man".
"Seizing the opportunity of visiting this interesting geological locality of the Moorabool River shortly after the discovery of the fossil, I found the river bed dry for the first time within the memory of man, to be easy walking where formerly there was a fine stream for fishing. The diversion of the head waters, the dry season, and the pumping operations of the Australian Cement Company carried on beneath the level of the stream bed, have all contributed to the present condition of things."
That isn't to say it hadn't gotten close before;
Owing to the exceptionally dry season the Moorabool River, near Fyansford and at Batesford, and places beyond, is exceptionally low, and in a few parts it is nothing but a succession of waterholes. April rains generally improve the river and make it run, but this year there has scarcely any rain. The river flats are very dry.
Nor that people hadn't been upset by it;
Said Cr. Broom at the Bannockburn Council meeting yesterday: "Have we any control over the water that runs down the rivers?"
Somebody replied "No," whereat Cr. Broom asked again indignantly, "But is anybody entitled to take all the water out of a river?" This time the
reply again was "No."
"Then," asked the Lethbndge Councillor, "Well' someone is taking the water out of the Moorabool River, and leaving it in a string of pot holes
with fish dying on the banks."
"Who is the offender?" asked the shire Secretary, and Cr. Broom indicated the State Rivers and Water Commission and the Geelong Waterworks
Trust. They were not actually taking ihe running water, but their storage dams had locked the water up at the head of the river and the people are not getting it lower down. They should enter a protest. It was not fair to either man or beast. They had locked up water that the people should be getting.
Cr. Gillett said that he had been approached by people who had asked that a public meeting be called to protest against tbe locking up of all the water. Some of it should be allowed to run.
Another councillor had heard that a big weir was to be constructed, and that would be worse.
WATER RUNNING TO WASTE.
LAL LAL, Friday.
A movement is on foot to bank Lal Lal
Creek to replenish Ballarat water supply.
Lal Lal Creek is supplied by several never
failing springs, and the water runs to
waste. The Railway Commissioners have
granted permission to construct the bank,
winch will be undertaken immediately. A
pump is to be installed to raise the im-
pounded spring water into the aqueduct.
The Ballarat Water Commission and the Lal Lal
Water Works Company appear to have found them-
selves somewhat at cross purposes, owing to the
difference of opinion existing between them as to the
right of the Commission to cut off the flow of water
from Harry Beale's Swamp. The formation of the
reservoir at the Swamp has diverted the main
source of supply to the Lal Lal Creek, and the
Water Works Company complain of being almost
entirely deprived of water for the supply of the
miners at Dolly's Creek and elsewhere. How the
conflicting interests of the two bodies are to be
treated is of course a matter for lawyers to deter-
mine, and we presume that the Water Works
Company will endeavor to ascertain what the law
has to say in the premises. Indeed, we understand
that counsel's opinion is now being obtained by the
Water Works Company.
The plight of this river and the recognition of the agents of its demise have been known for well over a hundred years. it is sobering to think how easy repeating those mistakes appear to have been.
In 1847, just on 170 years ago, William Swan Urquhart was tasked with surveying the source of the Moorabool River. This year while scouting locations for the upcoming film a couple of us got a chance to retrace his steps.
This is a closed catchment controlled by Central Highlands Water so permission was sought and kindly granted after undertakings about appropriate safety gear.
The headwaters lie in a small stretch of remnant forest east of the township of Mollongghip and feed into the Moorabool Reservoir. On this particular day a westerly breeze saw the comforting sight of Bunjil soaring in the uplift off the forest edge, an appropriate auspice for our trek.
There was a flat and even access track on the southern side which for the most part ran along side the boundary fence.
Large remnant trees including swamp gums along with many bird calls gave us some sense of what the landscape would have been like during Urquhart's visit. Now the huge irrigation frames dominate the view either side of this thin tract of forest, however there is no denying that some quite high natural values are contained within it.
Off the track and closer in toward the the river itself there was sword grass, ferns, and lots of moss covered trunk and branches. In places the undergrowth was too thick to access the river proper but the sound of trickling water was ever present.
A small spring soak about two thirds of the way in had us thinking we had arrived but it proved to be an offshoot. We pressed on initially missing the site until we doubled back. Even then it took a little while to confirm the location as the growth in and along the river was quite enveloping.
It turns out the Moorabool River West Branch's headwaters are rather incongruously positioned, given all the magnificent remnant natural vegetation, under a stand of imported Californian redwoods of about 70 years of age. Water can be seen moving out from the foot of the basalt upon which they sit feeding a small swampy area about 40 meters across. After walking past mainly open farmland on one side we found this to be quite an enchanting site.
A couple of wallabies had greeted us before disappearing to leave the place all to ourselves. There were plenty of birds calls and several species of butterflies filled the air around us, one of which was not often seen in the wild according to a Museum Victoria source (thank you Marion). Water plants and yabby holes featured as well.
Being in the middle of the irrigation season it was understandable that the soak was mostly dried out when we were there. The SKM report on the impact groudwater harvesting has on the river is sobering. For every 1 ML extracted in this area .8 of a ML does not enter the river as base flows. Under natural conditions it is not hard to assume this river would rarely if ever stop flowing.
It was not difficult to find this place evocative especially knowing the challenges this river faces. It is the birthplace of a river that is asked to provide so much, often well beyond its capacity. It does serve to remind us what we are fighting for; a strengthen, more resilient river, capable of sustaining all the species that rely on it.
We made our way back along the northern bank, a round trip of nearly 8 kilometers. There are some blackberry and thistle infestations that will need attention but on the whole the area is in pretty good condition. A 30 year old plantation of Californian Redwoods is hopefully the last of the managed introduced species to be cultivated within this area. We trust that CHW will continue to look after this special place and seek to enhance its values where they can.