Environmental Destruction

Friday, May 4, 2001 Tumut & Adelong Times

Call for council to take more active river management role

River bank clearing and rock walling treatment of the Tumut river again flared this week, when the Tumut shire council directed staff to tell the Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC) to stop work at the Lions Club Junction Park.

But not only does it appear it was made just a little late - the tree removal work was largely complete when the council staff arrived on site - but also without all the facts on prior consultation.

In fact the action has since been labeled as "knee-jerk" following disclosures that representatives of local fishing groups, NSW Fisheries, shire parks and gardens staff and the Lions club had all been previously consulted as to the intent and extent of the work at the Junction, 5 kms from Tumut.

The directive, made by councilors on Tuesday night, followed an address from a member of the public gallery in which he was highly critical of the DLWC's actions, including lengthy rockwalling and the removal of numerous trees including gum trees, which he claimed were destroying fish and even platypus habitat.

Council ordered the work stopped until there was more consultation on the operation being carried out at the Junction of the Tumut and Goobragandra (Little) rivers.

But the council's environment department manager Paul Mullins said only willow trees had been removed, not any native trees, and rockwalling would be limited to a section where scouring of the bank had occurred, and also at the junction itself in order to direct flow to the centre and hopefully eliminate a gravel bed which had been progressively building up, causing the river to fork.

He said the department had consulted with Ron Bowden of the fishing fraternity, the NSW Fisheries officer, parks staff and the Lions Club as part of a 12 month planning process. A review of relevant environmental factors had also been carried out according to the DLWC.

"We are now informed the Lions Club - who look after the Junction park - had asked the Department to carry out the work prior to winter," said Mr Mullins.

Tuesday evening's passionate criticism of the DLWC's management of. the Tumut River was delivered by local resident Mark Ransome.

Mr Ransome didn't confine his comments to the Department's works at the junction this week, where tractors and dozers had removed around a dozen willow trees.

In calling for Council to take a more active role in the river management, Mr Ransome was highly critical of DLWC's rockwalling and tree removal program.

"It's environmental destruction at its worst," Mr Ransome said "Tumut is so lucky we have such a picturesque, natural water environmental so close to the township and yet it's being destroyed.

"I know Council is looking to promote eco-tourism here in the future and the river would surely play a key role in any expansion of that industry. "Tumut doesn't need a big banana, a big pineapple or a big anything to attract people to the town - we don't need a plastic icon because we have this wonderful asset in the form of the Tumut River. "Unless something is done we won't have it for much longer." In appealing for Council to take a more active role, Mr Ransome conceded there were a variety of conflicting uses of the river. "I am sympathetic to those needs, but something simply has to be done," Mr Ransome said.

The DLWC's work on the Tumut River has been the subject of criticism from various sources over the past few years, as large sections have been progressively walled with rock, and trees removed in order to stop erosion and maximize flows.

Fishing groups claim DLWC's continual desnagging and rockwalling of the river banks are destroying fish habitats, and in some cases platypus habitats. Some believe the work is spoiling the natural beauty of the river; others that it is enhancing access and visibility.

However, the DLWC says its policy is to remove Willow trees only, and not any native vegetation.

Landowners along the river are concerned the high summer flows to provide irrigators with water is causing widespread erosion, and it's understood DLWC is currently investigating the feasibility of a down river storage at Narrandera which would potentially solve the need for high summer flows, and corresponding low winter flows.

One of the fiercest critics of the river management has been Ron Bowden of the Tumut Acclimatization Society, who has blasted the removal of snags, vegetation and natural sand/gravel beds which play a vital role in the breeding cycle of aquatic life and its food-chain.

Mr Bowden has also previously called for a broader community consultation by the department on its proposals, saying it should advertise detailed plans for various sections of the river, and also call for public submissions which could be analyzed by an independent body. So far his representations have fallen on deaf ears.

Mr Mullins said he would be recommending the council be represented at meetings of the Tumut River advisory committee as it was clear information on river work proposals was not getting back to the council. "The issue revolves around consultation, and the council has expressed concern it is not fully informed," he said.

Meanwhile a public forum has been set down for May II, from 2.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. to consider and provide input into targets to be reached by 2010 by the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Board.

The Board has objectives for long term sustainability for water, soils, salinity and biodiversity as Well as cultural heritage and productive landscapes.