Options on Tumut River Management
March 10, 2000 Tumut & Adelong Times
A public meeting has explored a number or potential solutions to the environmental and economic problems associated with high summer flows down the Tumut River, with a view to forming an action group to resolve the situation.
Whilst any intervention from the relevant authorities may be some time down the track, Monday night's meeting did put a number of issues into the public arena and also demonstrated local residents' concern for the current condition of the river.
Conducted by the Tumut River Landowners Association, the meeting attracted around 150 people including politicians, Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC) representatives, irrigators and landowners along the Tumut River.
The three and a half hour meeting highlighted the stressed state of the river as a result of high summer flows, combined with low winter flows, and also canvassed a range of possible solutions to resolve the current situation.
Finding a balance to meet the needs of irrigation downstream and the Snowy Scheme upstream, weighed against the environmental needs of the Tumut River, was the dilemma facing the meeting.
Whilst a solution wasn't found on the night, chairman of Tumut River Landowners Peter Luders was delighted with the roll-up and confident an action group would be formed in the near future to tackle the various local water issues.
"There was a lot of ground covered and much of the debate centred on technical issues, which made it difficult to product any outcomes during the meeting itself," Mr Luders said. "What was clear is that everyone wanted to talk about the Tumut River, all the issues are now in the public arena and I believe a strong voice will now emerge from this region to grapple with the State's water issues."
The Association will hold a further meeting in the near future, where it will determine the structure of any group formed and what they will be advocating for.
Monday's meeting featured several speakers, including DLWC regional director Geoff Fishburn, Member for Burrinjuck Katrina Hodgkinson, well known river campaigner Carl Drury and Chairman of the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Committee, Tom Stacey, as well as Mr Luders.
The focal point of Mr Luders' speech centred on the Tumut River's inability to meet the high summer flows currently being endured.
A solution, according to Mr Luders, would be to reduce peak summer flows from 9800 megalitres a day to 7800 megalitres a day.
To address the loss of water to irrigators downstream, Mr Luders proposed summer flows of up to 2000 megalitres per day out of Tantangra to the Upper Murrumbidgee.
"There's no doubt that the Tumut River is in a real mess," Mr Luders said. "Half of the entire irrigation allocation is forced down the Tumut River, and most of it is in summer. "The old river (prior to the Snowy Mountains Scheme) was a shallow mountain stream, around 25 metres widc. "The new river is 50m to 100m wide and the banks are almost vertical due to erosion. "We believe 80 percent of erosion is a result of the bloated summer flows. People that live along the Tumut River are literally having their land washed away - they are suffering."
Rock filling along the eroded banks by the DLWC was an effective measure, but only a band-aid solution, according to Mr Luders. "Rock filling can't go on forever - no one wants to see the Tumut River become a canal," he said.
The solution for Mr Luders was to reduce summer flows, whilst increasing flows from Tantangra to the Upper Murrumbidgee.
"High water tables would subsequently diminish, there would be less erosion and the river would reach its true fishing and recreational potential,' he said.
DLWC regional manager, Geoff Fishburn, agreed Mr Luders' option had benefits for the Tumut River, but said there were limiting factors in any such plan. "In some years there would be an inability to meet downstream irrigators' demands," Mr Fishburn said.
"As flows coming into Tantangra are limited to 60,000 megalitres, the 2000 megalitre output could not be maintained continuously - no more than 30 days.
"There would also be some uncontrolled spill-way discharge from Blowering. "From the Snowy's point of view, it would represent a lost opportunity to generate power."
Another option, which Mr Fishburn described as a "win-win" situation for the Tumut River and irrigators alike, was development of en-route storages downstream.
Whilst the cost of such storages may be in the vicinity of $6-9 million, the benefits would be significant, according to Mr Fishburn. "The storages would need to he of a fairly good size, around 400,000 megalitres," Mr Fishburn said.
"Providing irrigators with mid-river storages would obviously lower the Tumut River discharge and subsequently decrease the rate of erosion. "It would, however, impact on power generation also."
Meantime, Mr Fish-burn will look into the manner in which the DLWC undertakes rock-filling of riverbanks, following an inquiry from local angler Ron Bowden.
The DLWC is currently spending some $850,000 each year on maintenance projects on the Tumut River, with the majority of that money being spent on erosion and willow control.
Mr Bowden claimed the DLWC had promised to investigate including ceramic pipes into each rock fill whilst also providing a buffer zone for wildlife. "That was nearly four years ago, and nothing has been done," Mr Bowden said.
He launched a vigorous criticism of the Tumut River management in general. "We are losing everything - the land is being taken away from us and habitats eroded through the high summer flows, and low winter outflow," Mr Bowden said. "It's adversely effecting the farming economy and the tourism sector as well. I can't see why individual irrigators can't be asked to put in their own storages."
Fellow angler Geoff Naylor backed up Mr Bowden's views. "The recreational fishing industry during the early 1990s was worth $15 million, but that's now an industry in decline," Mr Naylor said. "Reducing water flows in summer would get the industry back on its feet."
Surveys handed out at the meeting will be collected by the Tumut River Landowners Association over the next week, and depending on interest a further meeting could be held in the next couple of weeks.