Important River Issues Subject Of Public Meeting

February 18, 2000 Tumut & Adelong Times

"Strong voice needed to balance needs of others" "Tumut river presents raft of unsolved problems"

Major issues dealing with the management of usage of water in the Tumut and Upper Murrumbidgee Rivers will be aired at a meeting convened by the Tumut River Landowners Association at Tumut RSL Club on Monday, March 6, at 7.30 p.m.

The region, stretching from the headwaters of the Murrumbidgee at Tantangara Dam to the headwaters of the Tumut River and west to the city of Wagga, has decided to make its voice heard. It has a population of about half a million people and water issues impact on each and every one of these people.

The meeting will consider the needs and concerns of all water users in the region, examining the issues and seeking solutions.

Ample time will be given to statements and questions from the floor. It will be an open meeting Keynote speaker will be Geoff Fishburn, Regional Director of the Department of Land and Water Conservation, Wagga. He has a professional knowledge of the region's water issues and is an advisory member of the Murrumbidgee River Management Committee, which makes recommendation to the Government on water usage.

A provisional list of speakers includes Ken Long, Senior Policy Advisor to Richard Amery, the NSW Minister for Land, Water Conservation and Agriculture; Katrina Hodgkinson MP; Carl Drury from the Upper Murrumbidgee; Tom Stacy, Chairman of the Murrumbidgee River Catchment Committee; and Stuart Pengelly of the DLWC, one of the planners of "Bidgee Banks".

"No effective voice outlining our water needs and problems has ever come out of our region, in spite of its population, size and agricultural significance," said Peter Luders, chairman of the Tumut River Landowners Association.

"While groups like the Murrumbidgee River Catchment Committee and the UMCCC have achieved much in terms of catchment and water planning over the years they are not established as lobby groups and they tend to be hampered by lack of resources.

"The need is for a group unattended to government which can liase with all these bodies and present a united voice to government representing the whole region. - "Highly effective lobbyists like the Snowy River Alliances, the rice growers and the cotton farmers have advanced their cases with such force and persistence that they have achieved strong and lasting results.

"Some of their results may prove unhelpful to our region unless we produce a strong voice to balance our needs with theirs. It we fail to produce such a voice we will be left behind, to the detriment of future generations," said Mr Luders.

Major water problems do exist along what are described as the "two stressed rivers."

Problems outlined by Mr Luders include:

• Shutting head stream flow where Tantangara Dam diverts the Murrumbidgee headwaters into the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This limits the availability of water down to the junction with the Tumut.

• Major populations such as Canberra and its subdivisions and developments make demands on the river unforseen by architects of the scheme. Although environmental flow legislation has been put in place by the ACT, such demands, echoed up and down stream will put great strain on available water with a lead time well into the future.

• The city of Wagga suffers problems of salinity and high summer water table, associated with releases from Blowering and Burrinjuck Dams and consequent high flows down the Murrumbidgee to meet irrigation demands.

• All of the region's riverside towns suffer the effects of poor water quality and unreliability of supply.

• Burrinjuck Dam has major algal problems that might respond to greater input flows.

• Water users, environmentalists and others all dispute the rights to the flows coming out of the dam.

"Conservationists cry out for environmental flows down all stressed rivers in the state. Their call might in future force Governments to accede to their requests," said Mr Luders.

"The once mighty Murrumbidgee has become an unaesthetic skeleton of its former self.

"There has already been a worthwhile investment in catchment management projects - along the Murrumbidgee, but mostly on a small scale. A larger project, the recently approved "Bidgee Banks" scheme, reflects praise on those involved," said Mr Luders.

"The Tumut River presents a whole raft of unsolved problems. Half the entire flow from the Snowy Mountains Catchment, including the water which flowed down the Murrumbidgee and Snowy Rivers before the Snowy Scheme, is now forced down the Tumut River," he said.

The Tumut River Landowners Association points to the contrast in size between the Tumut and the Murrumbidgee. The Murrumbidgee is some 100 metres Wide at Gundagai with a very deep bed able to cope with normal historical flows. The Tumut was only 15 - 25m wide with a very shallow bed, more a creek than a river. Consequently it could never hope to cope with the water it has received from the scheme.

It is now up to 100 metres Wide in places with banks still rapidly eroding where they have not been rock faced. More insidious effects such as water logging and high water tables are only now being appreciated.

In 1983 the farmers formed an association and lobbied the State Government, gaining measures such as rock facing the river banks to alleviate the problems. Their efforts represent another example of the benefits of successful lobbying. It has now become apparent that these measures will not produce a permanent solution.

Lasting solutions exist, are cost effective, and would be simple to implement, if Government can be persuaded of their merits.

Authorities should consider redirection of the top 20% high summer Tumut flows down the Murrumbidgee from Tantangara, effectively alleviating the stress on both rivers.

This would also save a large part of the $850,000 per annum currently being spent on control works along the Tumut.

Farmers and families along the river suffer the negative effects of the Snowy Scheme, and fight for restoration of their land.

But towns like Tumut must also be involved. It becomes harder with time to recall the unspoilt beauty of the river at Tumut, and its magnificent native trees in the 1950's, when one sees today its eroded banks covered with opportunist species that require constant lopping. The town's tourism must suffer as much as a result.

Other issues include salinity, which is becoming a national issue. A large meeting to examine its effects was held recently in Wagga. The Tumut meeting will explore salinity in the broad context of groundwater issues.

Fishing is a growth industry and a major boost to regional tourism. But an ANU survey suggests there are no longer any native fish in the Tumut River.

"We hope to have Fisheries experts at our meeting to look at these issues," said Mr Luders.

Issues of forest development will also be considered.

"Our region must get its fair share of water, but under proper management and control, with sensible redirection of the route of flow of this water," said Mr Luders.

"Otherwise our towns and cities will never reach their potential as quality places in which to work and live. "Industry and development will not be attracted to places which cannot guarantee them water.

"The future of agriculture in this region is dependent upon our access to water. This includes the groundwater and all the water flowing down our creeks and rivers, and its proper management.

"In thirty years time our children may have turned their backs on the ailing rural industries of today. "Sheep and cattle may have assumed even tighter terms of trade than now, with their production confined to niche areas elsewhere in the nation, while our region develops profitable industries like horticulture and viticulture more suited to our climate, topography and geography.

"The struggle for control and availability of the vast quantities of water necessary for such enterprises must commence today. It has already been taken up by regions more active and percipient than ours, and we must not leave it any later to join them," said Mr Luders.

"We ask everyone to join us on March 6, as we examine all of these important issues," concluded Mr Luders.