Water Matters – “Talk It Up” Event Summary

Water Matters – “Talk It Up” Event Summary

By Liz Hamilton

Along with 60 or so people, I recently attended the “Talk It Up” session hosted by the Geelong Regional Library & Heritage Centre. 

Barwon Water’s Managing Director, Shaun Cumming, chaired the session which featured a stellar line-up of speakers. Shaun provided an overview of some of the challenges for the Barwon catchment as our climate continues to become drier and rainfall more erratic leading to less water flowing into rivers and being captured in storage. He also gave an overview of the work that Barwon Water is doing to reduce water consumption and the importance of the Wonthaggi desalination plant in securing Melbourne’s water supply which in turn, enables water to be supplied to Geelong through the Melbourne to Geelong pipeline.

Since the Millennium Drought (from 1996 to 2010), there has been a ‘step change’ reduction of average annual inflows compared to the long-term average. On average, the West Barwon Reservoir in the Otway Ranges, has experienced 30% reduction in annual inflows since 1997, amounting to a third of the Greater Geelong region’s annual water use. As our climate continues to warm, our rainfall is predicted to decrease across the region with generally less rainfall in winter and spring. Yet despite this, authorities are faced with the challenge of providing water to the Geelong region, which has one of Australia’s fastest growing populations and two of the nation’s most flow-stressed rivers – the Barwon and the Moorabool.

Award winning Climate Scientist, Joëlle Gergis, set the scene around recent trends and observations and forecast changes to our climate in coming decades. Joëlle’s presentation was sobering to say the least as she explained how Australia’s geographical characteristics and associated climate drivers mean that our continent is warming faster than the global average – temperatures have risen by 1.5°C since 1910, compared with the 1.2°C global average increase.

Joëlle told us how Australia’s already erratic and variable climate is rapidly becoming more extreme and unpredictable, bringing us closer to breaching thresholds that we may not be able adapt to. The forecast trend of reduced rainfall will lead to further long-term reduction of in-flows to our reservoirs.

Joëlle referred to her newly published Quarterly Essay Highway to Hell: Climate Change and Australia’s Future – the title of which was inspired by UN Secretary-General António Guterres statement that humanity is “on the Highway to Hell with its foot on the accelerator!”

Wadawurrung Traditional Owner, Corrina Eccles, shared her knowledge of the importance of water to the Wadawurrung people, who traditionally lived across and cared for, the diverse waterways, wetlands, estuaries and coastline of the Barwon region. The Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation (WTOAC) have a two full time staff working on water projects and issues on Wadawurrung country.

Corrina talked of her thrill with WTOAC involvement in delivery of water to the Moorabool Yaluk (river) and the Durdidwarrah wetland; a wetland which had been dry for many years due to river diversions practices from earlier European settlement times.

Cameron Steele, Co-ordinator of the People for a Living Moorabool (PALM) also talked about the watering of the Moorabool and the Durdidwarrah wetland and his joy in witnessing the return of sound, movement and life to the wetland. The importance of the work that PALM has been undertaking for many years is undeniable.

A SKM report from over 15 years ago indicated that natural flow at Batesford had decreased by 90%. More recently, the 2020 State governments long – term water assessment indicated that for the Moorabool, the measured inflows have decreased by 21% over the last 15 years, indicating the need to continue fighting for the river. Cam also emphasised the importance of ensuring that our water managers and the community in general are taken onto the river to experience the beauty of our waterways and to see for themselves the issues that our rivers face.

Deakin University’s acting Director of Sustainability, Zoe Roloff, outlined her work in the development of an Integrated Water Management Plan for the university. The Deakin campus was developed on farmland in 1974. Bordered by the Waurn Ponds creek, the campus infrastructure was essentially built along the bottom of a gully. The campus is prone to serious flooding as witnessed in 2017 and 2018 when 1 in 100 and 1 in 200 – year storm events occurred. Resulting in millions of dollars of damage, these events were a wake-up call for the university, and prompted the engagement of a consultant to help with development of an integrated water management plan in consultation with stakeholders.

Two priority projects are currently being delivered. The first project has turned a muddy stormwater drainage system into a constructed wetland; 18 months on and the wetland is really starting to thrive. The second project will be delivering Class A water from Armstrong Creek to the campus for irrigation. Previously Deakin were purchasing about 60 ML of potable water for this use. 

It was really encouraging to hear from people with a genuine passion and hope for the future of our waterways, as well as some of the positive actions that are being undertaken by the community and water managers. However, there is still much to do if we are to keep our rivers healthy for future generations to come.  

The event finished with a short Q&A.

A video recording of the “Talk It Up – Water Matters” event is available through the Geelong Library’s YouTube channel.

Talk It Up- Water Matters event
Be a watchdog for our waterways!

Be a watchdog for our waterways!

Q. Qui garde nos rivieres?

 A. Friends of the Barwon has always acted as a guardian or watchdog for the waterways in our region.

 Importantly, we have made major contributions to the Central and Gippsland Region Sustainable Water Strategy (C&GSWS) (DELWP-2022), and also to the Rivers of the Barwon (Barre Warre Yulluk ) Action Plan (BWYAP) (DELWP -2021).

Together, these two documents represent the management blueprint for government authorities to follow to ensure the regions water supplies while protecting the environment with a 50-year vision.

The original Sustainable Water Strategy

There was a previous Central Sustainable Water Strategy (DELWP- 2006) which was a new, forward thinking and ambitious approach to water planning. Its weakness was that many of the actions anticipated were never implemented, or alternatively, massively delayed.

An example; one gigalitre (GL) of Environmental Water Holding was to be allocated to the Upper Barwon, but was only finally delivered in 2018 – twelve years after it was proposed!

How do we keep the Strategies honest?

Community groups (like FOTB) acting as river guardians are the only safeguards to ensure that what is promised is actually delivered in our region.

We can do this by continual referencing and monitoring of the implementation of actions contained in the above two documents.

To simplify this audit process, we have created a spreadsheet (see below) for anticipated actions specific to our region within the C&GSWS, and we also reproduced the Implementation page of the BWYAP (below).

(Note: more detail on the specific actions can be found in the full versions of the C&GSWS and BWYAP reports on the DEECA website – see the links above.

Please take a look at the actions proposed, check on progress, and see what’s most important to you.

Be a watchdog for our waterways!

FOTB Newsletter – March 2024

FOTB Newsletter – March 2024

By Lach Gordon, Acting Chair – FOTB

Our Chair, Trevor Hudson has taken two months leave of absence due to an ongoing chest infection. On behalf of the Committee, I wish him a speedy and complete recuperation. We will, albeit temporarily, miss his outstanding leadership and contribution to our organisation.

No doubt many of you will remember the Upper Barwon fish kill event of June 2016 which was one of the drivers of the formation of Friends of the Barwon. Some history…

During and after the Millennium drought Geelong water supply was at critical levels. Barwon Water’s only option for supplementation was to knowingly extract unsustainable quantities of water from their Gerangamete borefield. The borefield pumping was the major factor in lowering the water table beneath the Big Swamp situated midway in the Boundary Creek. Dehydration and oxidation of the acid sulphate soils in the swamp altered their chemistry. The “first flush” rain in 2016 released significant volumes of sulphuric acid into Boundary Creek, then into the Barwon at the confluence. This caused the 2016 fish kill. The then Minister’s decision to halt the pumping was welcomed after an outraged community response.

In 2018 Barwon Water under new leadership formed the Boundary Creek remediation working group. I joined this group at its outset, which continues today. The group broke new ground as it involved many community members and independent experts as well as Barwon Water representatives. Some of us were concerned about acid effects on the aquatic biota – particularly fish, amphibians and macroinvertebrates. We suggested then (and in later years) biota surveys above and below the Boundary Creek confluence. Austral Consulting did do some preliminary macroinvertebrate surveying in 2019, followed by further and expanded survey work in Spring 2023. Some improvement in invertebrate Biotic indices has occurred over time, but more conclusions will be drawn after an Autumn 2024 survey.

On February 29, I went along to a very well attended electrofishing demonstration on the Barwon near Forrest. CCMA and Barwon Water are partnering to assess the health of fish populations in the Upper Barwon River. Arthur Rylah Institute has been engaged to do the surveys this February and again at a similar time next year. Electrofishing uses direct current flowing between a submerged Cathode and Anode. This affects the movements of nearby fish, so they swim towards the anode where they can be caught and stunned. It is used to sample fish populations to determine abundance, density and species composition.

Nearly eight years after the fish kill we will finally get the fish data requested!

Footnote: The Big Swamp is recovering well, pH values, vegetation and groundwater have all improved and contingency measures are in place to prevent a recurrence of acid conditions.

The working group continues with emphasis now on the surrounding areas investigation.

Barwon Water should be congratulated on the transparent manner they have conducted this expensive and difficult remediation project. The independent (and highly qualified) experts were very complementary of the working group process, and at one stage suggested that the remediation project should be written up as a world class textbook example for remediation projects. High praise indeed!

Friends of the Barwon welcomes the recent announcement by Minister for Water Harriet Shing of new funding to protect Victoria’s waterways and wildlife. The State governments’ Green Links Grant programme announcement includes $1.77 million to undertake revegetation works along the Barwon River corridor – including the Moorabool River, the Barwon River and Waurn Ponds Creek. FOTB anticipate that the funding will be used to extend the very successful project on the Barwon at Birregurra known as Platypus Point.

Additionally, more than $700,000 has been allocated to help restore the Yarrowee River.

Read more here…..

Image:  Platypus Point on the Barwon River – Courtesy of The Surf Coast Times

Gerangamete and Forrest Landcare Group are co-hosting a follow-up What’s going on with our river? event in Forrest on Saturday 23 March, and you are warmly invited.

In 2022 you heard about the difficulties of managing the Upper Barwon River to maintain a healthy ecosystem in the face of dwindling flows and increasing demand for water. We thought you’d be interested to hear about the large amount of work that’s been done since then on private and public land in this area to improve the health of the river under the Corangamite CMA Flagship Project. A lot more of this work is planned under the Barwon Flagship Water Management Plan, which will be launched at this event.

You will hear again from water managers, scientists and citizen science coordinators from Barwon Water and Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA), who will focus on:

  • What has happened to improve the health of the river since 2022?
  • How is the health of the river now?
  • What is the Upper Barwon Flagship Project, how will this help the river, and how does it work on farms with river frontage?

This year’s event format is shorter, with just one hour for information presentations and questions in the hall, and a one-hour field trip to a site on the West Barwon River near Forrest where glyceria and willows have been removed and thousands of plants have gone in as part of the Flagship Project.

We will finish with a BBQ lunch back at the Forrest Hall and a chance for informal Q&A with CCMA and Barwon Water representatives.

Gerangamete and Forrest Landcare Group are again co-hosting this event with CCMA, Barwon Water and the Upper Barwon Landcare Network. Please feel free to forward this invitation to others you think might be interested in finding out more about the ongoing health and management of the Upper Barwon River.


9:30am Tea/coffee available on arrival at Forrest Hall

10am Welcome to Country, info presentations from CCMA and Barwon Water, Q&A

11am Optional visit to glyceria revegetation trial site near Forrest

12pm BBQ lunch back at hall hosted by Gerangamete and Forrest Landcare Group

Please see the flyer below for more information. Don’t forget to RSVP for catering to Mary (0488 522 448).

Friends of the Barwon (FOTB) were recently involved in a successful Clean Up Australia event on the Barwon River. Over 20 locals (adults and children) who are passionate about protecting our waterways from pollution, joined FOTB members to help clean up a section alongside the Barwon River around the Ceres Bridge that was in real need of some TLC! 

As you can see from the photos below, we certainly found a lot more rubbish than we expected! A lot of it was hidden under the long grass but there were also some big piles of rubbish that had been dumped quite a while ago that we cleaned up.

As a follow up, we have put in a suggestion to the City of Greater Geelong Environment team for council to consider putting a locked gate near the entrance of the track to stop people from using this secluded spot for dumping their rubbish…. Maybe the gate could be accompanied by a sign explaining that it is locked due to the high level of rubbish dumping that has been going on.

A big thank you to all who helped out on the day, especially FOTB Committee member, Trent Griffiths, for organising the event. Thanks also to the Waste Management Team at the City of Greater Geelong who have followed up by picking up two piles of hard rubbish, 17 bags of general waste, 2 bags of recycling and one of polystyrene that we collected.

This event was registered as part of  Clean Up Australia – Barwon River beside Ceres Bridge, Ceres

In the words of Committee member, Trent Griffiths:

The Barwon is mighty,

The rubbish unsightly! 

Let’s give the platypi a chance

To do their platypodi dance

In water that has an ab-sance

Of stinky rotten litter! 

Images: Trent Griffiths

On 1st March, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA) temporarily closed the Barwon River in Geelong following a blue-green algae outbreak.

The Barwon River is closed with warning signs placed along affected stretches of waterway to notify the public.

A combination of hot weather, low water flows and high nutrient levels in the Barwon River have contributed to the outbreak. Testing results have shown that high levels of toxic blue green algae have been found in two sampling locations.

For more information , visit the CCMA website

Friends of the Barwon Inc. were recently informed that our application to be a tax – Deductible Gift Recipient has been successful, and as such FOTB and its public fund have successfully been entered onto the Register of Environmental Organisations (REO) as of 29 November 2023.

This means that donations made to the public fund from this date of entry are eligible for a tax deduction under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (the Act). The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has been notified of the organisation’s entry onto the REO and will update the organisation’s Australian Business Register entry to reflect the public fund’s endorsement as a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR).

As a Not for Profit, FOTB operates on a very small budget which primarily covers the Executive Officer (EO) role for just 7.6 hours per week. All other work undertaken by the Committee, other members and the Executive Officer is voluntary. If you would like to help secure the future of FOTB and maybe expand our activities, please consider making a tax -deductible donation to Friends of the Barwon either through our Join Us page on our website or email friendsofthebarwon@gmail.com to discuss your ideas.

FOTB were represented at VCAT recently in relation to 40 River Drive, Teesdale. The developer was appealing the decision of the Golden Plains shire not to grant permission to subdivide their property. The hearing has been delayed whilst more information is supplied before a further hearing time.

In regards to rehabilitation of the Motor Cycle Facility at Fyansford, the Corangamite CMA (CCMA) has advised that the plans are nearly finalised and the rehabilitation of the site will be closely supervised by the CCMA and City of Greater Geelong (CoGG).

Image: Courtesy Geelong Advertiser

Did you know flood mapping for the Corangamite region is now available on Digital Twin Victoria?

You can check it out here https://vic.digitaltwin.terria.io/…

The map shows the 1% AEP (100-year ARI) regional flood extent for riverine flooding in the Corangamite region. Other regional maps and data is also available.

Please note: stormwater and coastal flood mapping is not currently available on DTV in the Corangamite region. Please check back for update.

Where flood extents are known, local councils are accountable for ensuring that their Planning Schemes correctly identify the areas of risk of a 1% AEP flood. Not all flood mapping has been identified in Council’s Planning Schemes, so it is important to check with the CMA and Council for any available mapping.

Flood advice can be obtained by visiting our website https://ccma.vic.gov.au/floodplains/

Image: Courtesy Digital Twin Victoria

Interested in the findings of our citizen scientists and how they have contributed to our knowledge of the health of our river? Well, the summary report, (the Upper Barwon Water Quality Report Card) for 2020 – 23 is a great place to start!

This report card summarises the work that Landcare members, Corangamite CMA staff and numerous individuals in the local community have done over the last three years. 

Volunteers have visited testing sites and collected data on a monthly basis, and this information has been incorporated into this report on water quality, freshwater invertebrates and eDNA surveys. 

Image: Courtesy Corangamite CMA

The final Kitjarra-dja-bul Bullarto Langi-ut masterplan was formally released by Christine Couzens, State MP for Geelong, on behalf of the Minister for Water, the Hon. Harriet Shing, at the Moorabool River Reserve, Batesford on 14 February 2024.

The day included a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony conducted by Corrina Eccles (WTOAC), followed by presentations from Cath Jenkins (CCMA Board Chair), Christine Couzens (State MP for Geelong) and Greg Robinson (WTOAC Board Member) and culminating in a walk around the Moorabool River Reserve facilitated by Dale Smithyman (Golden Plains Shire Council).  

The masterplan includes a 10-year program of environmental and infrastructure works, including re-vegetation, weed control, water flow and quality improvements, shared cycle and walking trails, boating facilities, new proposed public open space and new public land managed by Wadawurrung Traditional Owners to promote Aboriginal traditional land and water management practices.

You can use the following link to view or download  the final Kitjarra-dja-bul Bullarto Langi-ut masterplan: Kitjarra-dja-bul Bullarto langi-ut – Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (ccma.vic.gov.au).

The Corangamite Catchment Management Authority recently announced that releases of environmental water for the 2023-24 water year began on the 2nd of February 2024 at a rate of 2 megalitres/day down the west branch of the upper Barwon River and on the 7th of February increased to 5 megalitres/day.

These flows are on top of the minimum passing flow that Barwon Water releases down the west branch and any natural flow that might be in the river. These dry season (December-May) releases are the highest priority when planning releases from the Upper Barwon River Environmental Entitlement. They aim to maintain permanent water in the channel/pools to provide habitat to support resident and migratory fish, platypus and waterbugs. To learn the steps that the CCMA take while releases occur, click here to continue reading!

Image: Courtesy CosmoBates

Dr. Wayne Koster of the Arthur Rylah Institute, at the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, talks about native fish recovery and research. Wayne leads research projects on native fish ecology and conservation across Victoria and more broadly in south-eastern Australia.  

The focus of much of Wayne’s recent work has been on the movement and spawning ecology and conservation implications for riverine fishes, particularly the development of flow regimes for fish in regulated rivers. He also does some fascinating work monitoring and tracking eels in our rivers and oceans.

Saving Australia’s native fish with Dr. Wayne Koster — Episode 25 – Australian River Restoration Centre (arrc.au)

More fascinating podcasts featuring passionate scientists, landholders and indigenous leaders are available at the Australian River Restoration website.

Photo: Courtesy ARRC

Barwon Water is partnering with Corangamite Catchment Management Authority on a research project to assess the health of fish populations within the Upper Barwon River. An electro fishing demonstration event was recently held in Forrest to explain how this work will be undertaken.

Image: Electro fishing demonstration event on the Barwon River, Courtesy Lach Gordon

Both the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority and Barwon Water have been undertaking willow removal programs on sections of the Barwon River which fall under their jurisdiction.

Since December 2023, the CCMA have been remediating a section of the West Branch of the Barwon River between Birregurra-Forrest Road and Boundary Road, including the removal of willows on over three kilometres of river frontage. Works on the East Branch removed willows from approximately 1.7 kilometres of river frontage. To find out more, visit the CCMA website

Barwon Water’s work has involved remediation and stabilisation of the streambed and banks and removal of the willow trees downstream of the Wurdee Boluc Inlet Channel on the remaining 500 metres of Barwon Water managed land along the East Barwon River. To find out more, visit: www.yoursay.barwonwater.vic.gov.au/east-barwon-transfer

Photo: Willow removal works in progress on the West Barwon River, December 2023. Note: Willow stumps left in place to maintain bank stability – Courtesy CCMA.

FOTB recently supported an open letter imploring The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP to take a bold leadership stance on water recycling in Australia. You can read the full letter on the Clean Ocean Foundation website here.

Image: Courtesy Surfrider.org

In a proactive move to safeguard local waterways, EPA , with support from Corangamite Catchment Management Authority and Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Corporation, deployed water quality monitoring devices known as “sondes” in two local waterways: the Barwon River in Geelong, between Settlement Road and Barwon Terrace, and Thompson Creek in Breamlea, between Dan’s Reserve, Blackgate Road and the Estuary mouth.

Designed to be self-sufficient, the sondes are equipped to transmit live data directly to EPA water quality officers, ensuring real-time updates on the health of these water bodies. To inform the public of the presence of these devices, each is accompanied by clear signage explaining its purpose.

This initiative aims to provide a comprehensive, long-term view of water quality trends in the Barwon River and Thompson Creek areas. By measuring key physical parameters such as temperature, salinity, turbidity, and pH, the sondes will play a crucial role in the ongoing efforts to protect and improve the aquatic environment.

For further inquiries or concerns, the public is encouraged to reach out via email to SouthWest.Region@epa.vic.gov.au.

Phote: Officers from water sciences team and Environment Protection on Country program installing water quality monitoring equipment in Thompsons Creek

Barwon Water has launched a new grants program to support the work of community groups across the region.

Grants of up to $5,000 are available for community-led initiatives from Little River and the Bellarine Peninsula in the east, down to Apollo Bay and across to Colac in the west.

Barwon Water is looking for projects that will help make the community a better place to live, help people to be active and connected, improve the local environment, encourage social inclusion and save water for the region.  

The new community grants program has broad eligibility criteria, designed to be inclusive and accessible.

Applications open on 1 February and close on 31 March.

As well as the Community Grants program, other school and business grants for water saving measures and well-being are also outlined at the Barwon Water website.

Day one – Thursday, 9 May: Forum (Bendigo Exhibition Centre) – topics will include collaborating and combining management practices, aggregating action for landscape scale impacts, water in the landscape and learning from our peers. Thursday will also feature a networking dinner.

Day two – Friday, 10 May: Bus tour one – showcasing landcare projects in the Bendigo region or bus tour two – showcasing partnerships between Traditional Owners and landcare.

Tickets can be purchased via Humanitix

Through Barwon Water’s WaterAssist Home Program you can upgrade your old single-flush toilet for free and save money on water bills.

Did you know single-flush toilets use up to 18 litres of water per flush compared to between 3 to 4.5 litres of water with a 4-star rated toilet? By switching to a new toilet you could save up to 100,000 litres of water a year and more than $200 on your water bill.

To be eligible for the toilet upgrade, you must be the owner of the property and receive Barwon Water bills. A licensed plumber will upgrade your old single-flush toilet, assess your home water use and identify any further opportunities to save water. Plumbing works will be undertaken up to the value of $300 for free.

For more information, visit the Barwon WaterAssist website or to organise a booking.

Image: Courtesy Housegrail.com

Our committee continues to put a great deal of voluntary time and effort into FOTB in our fight for a healthier river system. We would love to get more of our Friends actively involved with our work and there are a range of ways that your skills can be put to good work.

We are looking for Friends with skills including;

  • computer,
  • website and social media management,
  • photography,
  • research and involvement with relevant advisory committees.

If you would like to get more involved as a Committee member or in other ways that could help, please email Liz Hamilton at friendsofthebarwon@gmail.com or ring 0400 780680 and briefly outline what skills and time commitments you may be able to provide as well as your contact details.

New memberships and renewals can be made through PayPal or Direct Debit by via the Join Us page on our FOTB website. If you would like to join us as either an Affiliate Member or Sponsor, please email us at  friendsofthebarwon@gmail.com

Thanks for your support.

Chair:                   Trevor Hodson

Deputy Chair:       Lach Gordon

Treasurer:            Hugh Stewart

Secretary:            Hugh Stewart

Committee:         Lach Gordon (Spokesperson)     

                              Andrea Montgomery

                              Trent Griffiths

    Mary Dracup

    Ewen McMillan

                              Peter McCracken

Executive Officer:  Liz Hamilton, Email:  friendsofthebarwon@gmail.com

FOTB Website: www.friendsofthebarwon.org.au

Image: FOTB Steering Committee

Protecting the Barwon – Five years of work undertaken by the FOTB

Protecting the Barwon – Five years of work undertaken by the FOTB

The Friends of the Barwon was formally launched in October 2018 at the Provenance Winery. It was proposed in 2017 at a CCMA workshop when a member of the Upper Barwon Landcare Network raised concerns about a series of low or no flow events in the Barwon around Winchelsea and the lack of communication between agencies or groups caring for the river. Coincidentally a walk was undertaken by a group of Landcarers in stages over three years (2014, 2015 and 2016) from the origin of the Barwon at Forrest to the mouth of the Barwon at Barwon Heads.  A book cataloguing the walk – “From Source to Sea” followed and described the adventure. The book revealed much about the state of the Barwon. The hidden secret gems and the areas where man-made intrusions laid waste to the wondrous beauty of the river. In 2016 there was a major fish kill in the Barwon as the result of acidic inflows from Boundary Creek. Whilst residents of Geelong see a small part of the Barwon, it is not the whole picture. It was realised there needed to be a group that had as its primary intention the improvement of the whole Barwon catchment. So began our journey.

The Barwon Catchment is large and includes the Barwon (Barwon and Yarrowie/Leigh Rivers) and the Moorabool catchment (Moorabool River). It extends from the Otways to Geelong and Barwon Heads. To the north it reaches as far as Ballarat. Much of the catchment has been significantly modified by settlement. Prior to settlement it was the home of the Wadawurrung and to the west the Eastern Maar. To the indigenous population, the rivers meant life and were revered. Wadawurrung creation stories centre around Lal Lal, the home of Bunjil, the Wedge-tailed Eagle and Lake Connewarre, the home of Connewarra, the Black Swan. The connectivity of the river between Lal Lal and Lake Connewarre is an overriding issue in their culture and is a factor in the removal of the spans of the Ovoid Aqueduct to restore that connectivity.

We put great store in being knowledge -based and hopefully will lead the community to a better understanding of the threats to our rivers and how we can address them by working with agencies like the CCMA and utilities like Barwon Water and contributing to the debate about where our water will come from in the future.

We want “a healthy, flowing and life sustaining Barwon River”. That is our goal and obligation to future generations. The population in Geelong accounts for three-quarters of the catchment population. Currently 80% of Geelong’s water is supplied from the West Barwon Reservoir via the treatment at Wurdibuloc. We know from multiple studies that we can no longer rely on reservoirs to supply all our water needs as we are entering a period where rainfall annually since the Millenium Drought has fallen by about 20% and this consequentially had led to much reduced run off of water into our major catchments and streams. As a group we do not undertake work on ground, preferring to make changes within the government to implement measures that will protect and improve our waterways.

Prior to FOTB’s launch, our steering committees’ first major effort, in conjunction with Environmental Justice Australia, was to write a submission to the Barwon Ministerial Advisory Committee entitled “Protecting and restoring the rivers of the Barwon (Barra Wallee Yalluk) system”. We asked for:

  • the restoration of environmental flows in our rivers,
  • for the Barwon to be granted “personhood” and to be regarded as a living entity with protections like those afforded to the Yarra and streams in parts of New Zealand,
  • for development along the river corridor to be appropriate, whether it be in rural or urban areas, for the restoration or enhancement of riparian corridors,
  • for the exclusion of stock from our waterways,
  • the control of pests, either floral, like blackberries or faunal like rabbits, foxes and feral cats that have a devastating impact on our biodiversity.

Our concerns overlapped with those of the traditional owners, the Wadawurrung, who say that a healthy river means healthy country.

Since then, we have been involved in many submissions to Councils in the catchment – Golden Plains, Surf Coast, Colac Otway and City of Greater Geelong. Some have been for These include planning issues like the Inverleigh Structure Plan where we encountered the way developers use the planning process to achieve their ends by crushing concerned citizens with a phalanx of Senior and Junior Council, using an army of expert witnesses that dismiss the lived experience of local residents who, when it comes to it, know what really happens in times of flooding or the impact of poorly managed stormwater. The likely impact of such developments will no doubt alter the character off rural living zones with more intense development and decreasing biodiversity.

A chronology of submissions would follow with our objection to a 40,000 head sheep dairy at Murnong Farm on the outskirts of Inverleigh. Our concerns related to the proponents wishing to access an allocation of 100 ML annually via a sleeper licence from the Barwon as well as the risk of runoff of nutrients into the river as many tonnes of composted material, a by-product of the dairy, were to be spread on paddocks on the same property. Local landowners indicated that in high rainfall events (20 – 40 ml per day) this would result in water flowing from the property across the Inverleigh-Winchelsea Road onto neighbouring properties and then into the Barwon, adding an unacceptable nutrient load to the river, and if allowed would add to the frequency of blue-green algal outbreaks downstream in Geelong.

Another concern was a motor cycle training complex at Fyansford which was complicated by the developer doing extensive earthworks in the riparian zone prior to their application being heard at CoGG. An application was submitted to Council but was not allowed. An appeal to VCAT was pursued by the developer but withdrawn after VCAT indicated as a preliminary a Cultural Heritage Plan was required. The resolution of this situation is still in the hands of CoGG, the CCMA and various other bodies. We are hopeful the restoration of the site will commence soon. It is noted the area is now part of the NWGGA (Northern and Western Geelong Growth Area) and much of the site, being on flood plain will not be developed for housing but will be set aside for greenspace.

Prior to the last State election, we wrote to all candidates to familiarise them with our concerns for the river. The feedback was gratifying and has helped to foster our relationships with sitting members in the catchment. One outcome perhaps related to this contact was the introduction into planning controls across the state of a requirements for planning applications involving waterways to include reference to Significant Landscape Overlays to protect our rivers being subject to inappropriate development especially on floodplains and areas of natural beauty. Issues to be considered in the overlay would be the siting and design of buildings and fences, the removal of vegetation and undertaking earthworks. This was the result of speaking with the ALP candidate for Polwarth, Hutch Hussein, who then raised our concerns directly with Minister for the Environment, Lily D’Ambrosio.

We were concerned when the Government was going to allow access to Crown leases on river fronts for camping in response to pressure from the fishing lobby. Originally this was a matter to allow access to Crown leases on the Murray, Broken and Goulburn rivers but in the final draft all Victorian rivers were included. Changes were made in the access conditions. Our voice added to the concerns of the Victorian Farmers’ Federation.

We have worked with EnviroDNA to map parts of the Barwon for the presence of platypus and these observations have added to the Great Australian Platypus Survey. Fortunately, platypus populations were found throughout the Barwon catchment but they remain vulnerable.

We have supported the Friends of the Yarrowee, after a developer cleared a large area of land on a hillside for housing without taking adequate steps to stop the flow of silted runoff into the river. Fortunately, the EPA have responded and are taking measures to ensure the developer cleans up the siltation in the river.

One of the major efforts has been responding to the Central and Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy. To this end Lach Gordon and Andrew Kelly (the Yarra River Keeper) initiated the Concerned Waterways Alliance to bring the attention to policy makers of the need for all Victorian rivers to be considered to ensure they have adequate environmental flows. It was also noted that in developing the strategy there had been no consultation with the general community apart from members of the Indigenous community. Incremental increases in allocations have been made but they are far from enough. Currently in the Barwon the deficit in annual environmental flows is 29 GL (gigalitres). The Barwon currently receives 1 GL for environmental flows and over the next decade will receive an additional 5 GL. Hardly enough to sustain the health of the river at a time when it is forecast there will be reduced rainfall and a warmer climate. The Barwon is not alone in this – the Moorabool has an increased allocation over the next decade to ensure connectivity throughout the length of the river, but it is facing significant challenges as evidenced by the recent work of People for a Living Moorabool highlighting the impact of unlicenced farm dams on flows into the river. A welcome change has been the recent allocation to Southern Rural Water of $9M to police unlicenced dams.

More recently we have seen the activation of the Lough Calvert Drainage Scheme as a result of rising water levels in Lake Colac causing flooding on the margins of the lake. The drain is opened when a certain level is reached in the lake. There is also a stipulation that water can only be released if salinity levels measured at Winchelsea are not exceeded. The water is discharged by a series of drains that flow from Lake Colac via Lough Calvert to the Birregurra Creek and then to the Barwon. The concern is that water coming from the lake is quite saline, about 4000 ECU and rich in nutrients. The last time the scheme operated it was estimated over 20,000 tonnes of “salt” was delivered to the Barwon with an impact on the in-stream biodiversity beyond Winchelsea. Flows of about 40 ML/day have resulted but with the recent drier weather it is likely discharges will soon cease and any threat to the Barwon will cease.

In the search for solutions to this problem of decreasing natural water resources and the impact on biodiversity we must find other solutions. At present flows in the Yarrowee are sustained by the discharge of Class C from the South Ballarat waste water treatment plant. Barwon Water treats a relatively small portion of its waste water to Class A but even then, it cannot by law be used for drinking. In fact, the government in the SWS specifically ruled out any consideration of using recycled water for drinking, preferring instead to look to increasing the capacity of the desal plant at Wonthaggi by 50 GL annually. They have also shadowed a desal plant on the Bellarine rather than investing in making a truly circular water economy. So called manufactured water from Wonthaggi currently supplies about a third of Melbourne’s drinking water and is being used in part by Geelong residents via the Melbourne-Geelong Pipeline. Waste water from treatment plants is currently discharged either to ocean outfalls or into rivers. Only 20% of waste water is recycled. The Eastern Treatment Plant at Cranbourne discharges about 130 GL of Class A water to sea or about 20% of Melbourne’s drinking needs. After treatment there is still the problem of legacy chemicals such as PFAS and a long list of pharmaceuticals in the biosludge. Presently this is dried and used in agriculture.  These can be removed and not returned to the environment if the biosludge is heat-treated to produce biochar. The technology exists but the government lacks the will to pursue it.

What do we want to follow up with in the next few years? We want to see a truly circular economy for water. We want to see integrated water management as the corner stone for all new developments. We know there are gains to be made with water efficiency measures. We need to look at how we manage stormwater and do not repeat the mistakes made at Torquay leading to the degradation of the Karaaf wetlands, where the lowered salinity levels from the influx of storm water is leading to dieback of flora in these saltmarshes. We need to press the government to lift the restriction on the uses of recycled water. We want our rivers to become living entities where people and nature can thrive – to be there for future generations.