High Summer Flows The Major Concern
Concerns over the health of the Tumut River were at the forefront of a community forum hosted by the Murrumbidgee River Management Committee in Tumut last week.
Chair of the Committee, Kath Bowmer, said community forums were being held in each town where the committee meets, providing an opportunity to let the community know about the development of a River Management Plan and to hear community concerns over river management.
The forum attracted representatives of local business, Tumut River Landholders Association, Tumut Shire, Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Board, Committee for Rehabilitation of the Tumut River, Tumut Acclimatisation Society, Tumut Fly Fishers and Gilmore Landcare.
The main concerns, Ms Bowmer said, revolved around the high summer flows in the Tumut River. "As with most environmental issues, there is a need to balance the sometimes conflicting needs of different interest groups," she said, "The high summer flows out of Blowering Dam are due to water use requirements downstream. "Unfortunately, these high flows are also causing river banks to erode and rock walls have been put into place to stop the banks slumping.
"A number of land owners commented that the rock walling is stopping erosion and commended the Department of Land and Water Conservation in their efforts, but the rock walling always causes problems for fish habitat, and some believe, loss of tourism dollars due to the loss of natural aesthetics.
"As part of the River Management Plan, the Committee is investigating a number of options to improve Tumut River health, including the feasibility of en-route storage.
Other issues considered by the committee in their meeting included the implications of the new Water Management Act, the Murrumbidgee Catchment Board's targets and strategies and the further development of the River Management Plan.
The Murrumbidgee Management Committee include water user representatives from the irrigation industry, environmental interests, local government, the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Board, Aboriginal interests and government agencies.
Meanwhile, the proposed recommendation announced this week by the Fisheries Scientific Committee reflects the serious threatening processes affecting the Murrumbidgee and the Tumut River, according to Ms Bowmer.
Those damaging processes include river flow changes, barriers to fish passage, river temperature changes, introduced fish species, over fishing and clearing of riparian vegetation.
Ms Bowmer said her committee had been working towards improving the problems indicated in the recommendation in both the Murrumbidgee and Tumut Rivers for the past three years.
"While it will take a long time to redress the problems of the Murrumbidgee River system, the River Management Plan currently being finalised by the Committee will produce major environmental benefits," Ms Bowmer said.
"These include the possibility of en-route storages to assist in the better management of flows in the Tumut River.
"One of the key achievements of the Committee was the introduction of a set of environmental flow rules three years ago. "These rules aim to improve the health of the river (Murrumbidgee) and its aquatic system by mimicking the river's natural flow variability.
"Last year the flow rules delivered significant benefits to the river (Murrumbidgee) as a relatively small amount of water set aside for environmental contingencies was used to 'piggy back' on naturally high flows from the Murrumbidgee's tributaries.
"Wetlands right across the river were inundated, triggering aquatic plant growth and providing ideal conditions for frog, bird and fish breeding.
"As the water level dropped, water from the wetlands drained back into the river, taking with it food for many of the aquatic animals living in the river."
The River Management Plan highlights the processes that threaten the Murrumbidgee's aquatic systems, according to Ms Bowmer. For instance, the plan deals with fish management and habitat including the management of introduced species, wetland watering and riparian zone management. Other possible solutions being considered include fish ladders on weirs, artificial watering of wetlands and reducing cold water pollution from the dams.
Ms Bowmer stressed that a wide range of community programs were improving the health of the Murrumbidgee. These include the $1 million Bidgee Banks program run jointly by Greening Australia and the Department of Land and Water Conservation. The program is helping land owners to strategically fence and revegetate stream reaches of the upper and the mid- Murrumbidgee catchment as well as providing off-. stream watering points for stock.