Save Gunbower Creek before it disappears, says couple

By Daneka Hill

A COUPLE living along Gunbower Creek have hit out at water authorities' management of the waterway, saying the creek's banks are rapidly eroding before their eyes because of environmental flooding.

But Goulburn-Murray Water general manager of water delivery services Warren Blyth said the current daily flow over Gunbower Weir was 400-500ML per day, and the North Central Catchment Management Authority say the water volumes are not out of the ordinary.

However, Malcolm and Vicki Johnson - custodians of Gunbower Estate, the site of the first farm in the area and home to a 160-year-old homestead - said he had never seen the creek in such a dire state.

“They used to let the water level down in the winter to harden the banks up, but now with this environmental flooding we are losing 20 metres of bank in some sections,” Mr Johnson said.

The multi-generational Gunbower man has planted more than 14,000 trees on Gunbower Estate – many of them along the bank.

“In 2004 we planted trees three metres from the bank and now they are right on the edge,” he said.

“We’ve nearly got a pump shed in the creek … that pump shed has been there all my life and I’m 52. It used to be five metres from the bank but in a few years its nearly fallen in.”

Mr Johnson, who works as a landscaper and tree planter, said he had to install a creek wall on another Gunbower property to save a Red Gum from falling into the creek and endangering a home.

Mrs Johnson said the creek itself was getting bigger because of the amount of water being pushed down it for artificial flooding in Gunbower forest and water usage downstream.

“The creek is actually very narrow and shallow. It’s not a river, it’s a creek, and they are pushing so much water down it,” she said.

“The carp are undermining the banks as well by constantly burrowing into it.”

Mrs Johnson said there were multiple scar and canoe trees and culturally important sites on the property at risk if water authorities continued to re-define the creek.

Mr Johnson blames the lack of knowledge in the North Central Catchment Management Authority and Goulburn-Murray Water for the lasting damage.

“The Hipwell Road regulators recorded 1640ML when they operate during environmental flooding events.”

The Hipwell Road channel is used to flood water from Gunbower Creek into the forest.

Mr Johnson said Gunbower's forest naturally floods from the Murray River, not Gunbower Creek, and using the creek to perform environmental flooding was essentially "pushing water uphill".

“There has been very, very poor management over the years and it’s getting worse and worse,” he said.

GMW said there was an operating rule that caps the release to 800-900 megalitres per day but said flows in the range of 2000ML "may occur due to natural floods" in Gunbower Creek.

"Of course natural floods can still periodically get higher than this,” he said.

North Central Catchment Management Authority program delivery executive manager Rachel Murphy said prior to the introduction of water for the environment, larger volumes of irrigation water were frequently delivered down the creek than they are now, even with water for the environment.

Mr Johnson said the erosion damage began when bulk water entitlements were reformed, and the CMA started moving water around “for the fish” rather than holding it in weirs and letting water levels seasonally drop.

Mr Johnson is part of the passionate Central Murray Environmental Flood Plains Group and said he had brought his and his neighbours concerns to the water authorities several times.

“They don’t listen to us and they think we are whinging idiots but we’re not. It is our area and it is hugely frustrating,” he said.

“I go around to a lot of farms and I see the damage. One part of their [Norther Central CMA's] programs was to take out all the weeping willow trees because they weren’t native, but they never replaced them with native trees.”

According to the Johnsons, the willow trees used to serve as nurseries for shrimp species in the river and nesting spots for platypus, as well as bank protection on the river bends.

“They aren’t native but they’ve been there 70 years and they were softening the water in the corners,” Mr Johnson said.

“Now they’re gone and those corners have washed away because they didn’t replace the trees with anything.”