Friends of the Barwon (FOTB) is an independent knowledge-based community group which aims to protect the rivers of the Barwon system; the Yarrowee/Leigh, Moorabool, Upper Barwon and Lower Barwon including the Ramsar wetlands and the Estuary. We do this through building partnerships, empowering communities and engaging with government. The rivers and wetlands form an integrated and connected system now also known by the Wadawurrung phrase Barre Warre Yulluk. Two basins contribute flow to the Lower Barwon – these are the Barwon basin and the Moorabool basin.
To avoid duplication this submission will not include discussion of the Moorabool basin which is covered separately by a submission from People for a Living Moorabool (PALM).
Some Key questions for the Strategy Development Team
Does the Strategy aim to set bold aspirational targets to:
- Restore flows in over extracted rivers?
- Account for system resilience and adaption for climate change?
- Recover from historic damage done, (such as removal of concrete in channelised creeks, drainage schemes)?
- Prevent pollutants entering waterways (rivers are not drains)?
- Monitor stream condition including flows, water quality parameters, micro and macro invertebrates, plant, fish and bird life?
- Provide finance for regular monitoring, surveillance and compliance of all private sources of water extraction including farm dams, waterways and groundwater?
- Accelerate riparian restoration with fenced wide buffer zones?
- Recognise that healthy, connected waterways are critical enablers of functional landscape ecology?
- Strengthen planning provisions to prevent agricultural and housing developments adversely impacting waterways?
- Develop a genuine partnership between government agencies DEECA, SRW, CMA’s, EPA, Barwon Water etc. and the community represented by Landcare groups, Riverkeepers and voluntary organisations such as FOTB?
More financial support for Landcare and community groups will be essential for genuine partnership and improvement of outcomes.
Lack of flow and water pollution has not improved
The Barwon Basin has some of the State’s most flow stressed waterways which suffer from an ever-increasing demand for water, declining inflows and water quality, reduced biodiversity and a lack of environmental water reserved and delivered to our river system.
The Barwon Basin includes the Yarrowie/Leigh river, as well as the upper and middle sections of the Barwon River. Restoration of flows to these two rivers was largely neglected in the Central and Gippsland Region Sustainable Water Strategy (C&GSWS) with insufficient water recovery targets, long time frames for delivery and no apparent pathway for restoration of flows to occur.
Much of the flow, (approx. 7G/l p.a.), to the Yarrowie/Leigh River is nutrient rich effluent from the Ballarat South West Water Treatment plant which contains pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants; incompatible with healthy in-stream biology including fish life. Other flows into this river include Ballarat stormwater and discharge from mine dewatering. It is apparent that the C&GSWS assumed that these flows were sufficient for this river even though they are constant flows and therefore incompatible with healthy stream ecology.
During early spring 2023, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA) – as the manager of the Lough Calvert Drainage Trust since 1997 – was releasing highly saline and nutrient rich water from Lake Colac via the Birregurra Creek to the Upper Barwon River. Previous operation of this scheme (which was constituted in 1953) caused considerable erosion and loss of biodiversity. Its present use demonstrates that we continue to use our rivers as drains.
Farm dams capture at least 16% of inflows to the Barwon Basin or 34.6 G/l p.a. The Yarrowie/Leigh has been significantly impacted by a proliferation of private catchment dams in recent years. Their negative effect on stream flows, combined with reduced runoff from climate change, will significantly amplify the impact to this river in future.
Southern Rural Water must increase monitoring and compliance of illegal dam construction and extraction from waterways and groundwater.
Restoration of high-quality Environmental flows
E DNA surveys, supported by FOTB in the upper Barwon, have demonstrated that local platypus occupation has been reduced because of lack of flow and habitat damage.
Maintaining adequate flow in managed river systems is a key platypus conservation guideline for agencies.
Friends of the Barwon maintain that all water released to rivers should be of potable quality and that the Victorian Government must be open to the use of potable recycled water. There is a demonstrable economic and social benefit from potable water reuse. Large volumes of highly treated water are presently being piped to the ocean (for example, the Eastern Treatment Plant). Consider that hundreds of gigalitres of potable reuse water could be returned to the water grid at minimal further processing cost compared to desalination, and it can be recycled multiple times.
(Think of the benefit of Compound Interest!)
Saving water by reducing single use would substantially reduce the current requirement to over extract high quality catchment water.
The strategy can provide a strong voice to Government on this important issue.
The Upper Barwon River Environmental Entitlement (2018) of 1G/l p.a. is held in the West Barwon reservoir and is delivered by the CCMA on behalf of the Victorian Environmental Water Holder. The Long-Term Water Resource Assessment (LTWRA) attributes surface water decline, since the previous Sustainable Water Strategy (SWS) (2006), mainly to climate change and estimates a 30G/l decline for the Barwon basin. It is proposed in the C&GSWS to provide the Upper Barwon with 2.3G/l p.a. within five years and a total of 5G/l p.a. after 10 years. However, there is currently no pathway for this water to be delivered.
(FOTB has discussed the need for this situation to be resolved with Barwon Water – September 2023).
The 2019 FLOWS study for the Barwon basin showed that to restore full ecosystem values would require 44G/l p.a.
Constant attempts by developers to reduce lot sizes (sometimes unsewered), remove riparian vegetation and increase water extraction prompted FOTB to request (unsuccessfully) the then Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, for a moratorium on development (February 2021).
FOTB played a crucial role in the gazetting of Interim Planning Scheme Amendment VC201, (December 2022) but developers continue to attempt to circumvent the intention of this legislation. It’s no secret that land developed on waterways attracts a premium sale price around 30% higher than other land nearby. VC201 has delivered on short term actions in the Rivers of the Barwon Action plan which was informed by submissions from FOTB. However, Significant Landscape Overlay schedules need strengthening at the end of the interim period which is 31 December 2026.
Friends of the Barwon is aware that the VWMS is at a preliminary stage. Following this brief submission, FOTB look forward to providing further input.
We note that flows to the Barwon basin were not prioritised in the C&GSWS and, in comparison to other rivers, fared particularly badly. A return of dry years will once again cause cease to flow events in the upper Barwon with a subsequent loss of biodiversity.
FOTB urges the Strategy Group to develop a bold approach to the final document recognising the urgency imposed by the effect of climate change and explosive population growth in our region.
IMAGE: Courtesy of DECCA