River flow damage inspected by minister

By Alana Christensen

All options are on the table to solve the problem of high unseasonal flows, according to Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville.

The height of the Goulburn River has been a talking point for several months now, with irrigators, environmentalists and Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority all raising concerns about the impact record inter-valley transfers have had on the river’s banks.

It’s a concern shared by Ms Neville, who said she was committed to exploring a range of solutions.

‘‘The way the river is running at the moment over the summer period is very nearly at the top of the banks. It’s having some serious consequences in terms of environmental damage,’’ she said.

‘‘That seems to defeat the purpose of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘So we need to have a look at what we need to do along this river to manage those water flows, whether we need to put in some sort of limits on them, or whether it’s how we time the flows into the future.’’

She said the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning had already begun work on the issue, and hoped advice would be provided before the start of the next irrigation season.

‘‘We’ve been talking certainly in the Sunraysia area for a long time now about the issues with deliverability, so there is only so much water we can move at any one time,’’ Ms Neville said.

‘‘We want to make sure we can deliver for irrigators, but we’ve got to do it in such a way that we’re not damaging the river and its recreational and environmental assets.’’

Ms Neville was joined on a 30-minute boat tour of the Goulburn River by Goulburn-Murray Water resource manager Mark Bailey, Goulburn Broken CMA chief executive officer Chris Norman, Greater Shepparton City councillor Dennis Patterson and local fishing advocate and business owner Steve Threlfall.

Mr Norman said Ms Neville’s visit was ‘‘worth 25 briefings’’.

After years of environmental flows to promote vegetation growth and encourage fish and invertebrate breeding, Mr Norman said the high level of the river had almost sent them ‘‘back to square one’’ and caused notching along the banks.

For Mr Threlfall, the river height was not just having an impact on the environment, but also local recreation and tourism.

Cr Patterson said it was encouraging to see Ms Neville visit, but said the environmental damage that was occurring was exactly what the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was put in place to prevent.

‘‘This river is in far worse condition now,’’ he said.

‘‘It has to be changed and changed quickly. The river banks are falling in in several places. You can’t replace that. You can’t just go and put the mud back up.’’

With so many parties involved, Cr Patterson acknowledges the situation was ‘‘very complicated’’.

‘‘There’s no one easy answer, but just because there’s no one easy answer doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We just have to work at it.’’