Transfers hot topic at forum

By Geoff Adams

The damage caused to the Goulburn River by transfers of irrigation water dominated a forum to talk about environmental water for the river in Shepparton last week.

Some of the stakeholders invited to the forum wanted assurances that the shifting of large volumes of water, called inter-valley transfers, would not continue to cause damage, and they also wanted to know how the impact was being assessed and if the damage was reversing the effects of managed environmental flows.

The chair of the forum tried to bring the discussion back to the agenda, but many of the people attending wanted to discuss other issues impacting the river environment.

The night was organised by the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority to provide an overview of the Murray Darling Basin Long Term Intervention Monitoring (LTIM) project.

Scientists explained the key findings from five years of monitoring the effects of environmental flows on the lower Goulburn River, but the question-and-answer discussion drifted towards other, broader issues for the river.

Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder assistant secretary Hilton Taylor told the forum his body held about 2000Gl of water to administer across the Murray-Darling Basin, which had a value of between $3.2billion and $3.4billion.

‘‘That water can be delivered in different ways and different times of the year to achieve outcomes,’’ Mr Taylor said.

He said the agency spent tens of millions of dollars evaluating and monitoring the outcomes of the delivery of environmental water.

He acknowledged that his department could have been doing a better job in communicating its work and they were endeavouring to address that.

‘‘Some of this monitoring is identifying clear evidence of improvements as a direct consequence of what we are doing.

‘‘That informs what we do for the next year. We adapt and change what we do.’’

LTIM project leader Dr Angus Webb from the University of Melbourne said during the five years a range of research bodies, government agencies and departments were involved in measuring the outcomes.

The Goulburn River was the only Victorian site on the long-term intervention monitoring project for the basin.

Dr Webb explained the way habitat and environmental changes were being measured by the environmental flows.

Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum urged the scientists to look into whether there were alternatives to using water valued at about $60 million for the ‘‘winter fresh’’ to achieve positive environmental outcomes.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said the environmental improvements delivered by environmental flows, were being washed away by high inter-valley transfer volumes.

Riverine resident Ross McPherson from Arcadia raised questions over the success of attempts to deliver pulsed flows, and also whether the true costs of delivering water downstream, were being recorded.

Terry Court from Tatura raised questions about constraints on flow and being able to deliver environmental flow.

Goulburn Broken CMA chief executive Chris Norman said they were looking at ways of providing flows in a less constrained way.

He said the Victorian water minister was clear there would be be no flooding of private land.

One scientist suggested more creeks and streams could be delivered water at a relatively low level without causing major over-bank flooding.

City of Greater Shepparton councillor Denis Patterson also raised the issue of long-term damage to vegetation caused by inter-valley transfers.