Notes from the Annual General Meeting

Rivers are living entities, like plants and animals, that need water to stay healthy. Otherwise, they are just drains. If more than 30 per cent of flows are extracted for consumptive uses, river health will suffer. So said Juliet Le Feuvre, from Environment Victoria, in a talk well-received by some 40 people attending the first Annual Meeting of Friends Of The Barwon Incorporated, on 22 November, at Provenance Wines in Fyansford.

“Barwon River has 25 per cent of its flow extracted” she said, “and the river was officially classed in 2010 as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ for 58 per cent of its length”. The Moorabool is in even more trouble, with 93 per cent of its flow extracted. The Barwon’s and Moorabool’s situations are even more alarming on account of a steep decline in stream-flows over the last few decades. “Inflows to the West Barwon reservoir are 32 per cent down” said Juliet; for the Barwon as a whole, surface-water reduction is 11 per cent, and 20 per cent for the Moorabool. All of these declines were borne by the rivers, not by consumers”.

What’s causing these declines? Lack of rainfall is the big one, but farm dams and plantations are also implicated. Juliet quoted official estimates that stock and domestic dams in the Barwon basin now hold 24 Gigalitres, and licensed irrigation dams hold 10 Gl, compared public storages holding 78.5 Gl. But the precise effect on streamflow is still unmeasured. Sadly, too, the State government is still unable to show what impact all this has on river health.

Barwon’s salinity and dissolved oxygen are deteriorating, but Moorabool’s are improving – probably due to it getting more environmental water rights. Overall, however, anecdotal evidence suggests both rivers are getting worse. The challenge is to stop these trends before these rivers get to the sorry condition afflicting the Murray-Darling; where over-extraction and climate change have created an environmental basket case.

Understandably, the issue of alternative supplies for consumptive users was put. Recycled water in Perth is being used for potable supplies; and some recycled water goes on parklands and golf courses. But industry generally rejects recycled water because of its salt content. Here is another challenge: to bring consumers on board in the interests of bringing our rivers back to life. It’s a challenge that Friends Of The Barwon could take up under its committee.

The new committee consists of;

President – Kaye Rodden

Vice President – Tim Trottier

Treasurer – Trevor Hodson

Secretary – Peter Greig

Committee Members 

Hugh Stewart, Lach Gordon, Peter McCracken, Gill Gartlan, Stewart Mathison, Sarah Brien, Phillip Bade, Andrea Montgomery.