The Victorian Government’s ongoing failure to provide adequate environmental flows to the Yarra River has pushed the endangered Macquarie Perch to the brink of survival, Environment Victoria revealed today.
Following legal advice from the Environment Defenders Office (EDO), Environment Victoria have referred the issue to Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett and asked him to investigate the case under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to determine if the Victorian Government had broken federal law.
Evidence from a report commissioned for the Water Minister, Risk Assessment for the Yarra River 2009, warns that drastically reduced flows were responsible for the fact that no new season endangered Macquarie Perch were recorded in the Yarra River during the most recent fish surveys.
The latest scientific risk assessment advised strongly against any further reductions in the Yarra’s flows given the extreme risk to the survival of native fish.
Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers Campaign Manager Leonie Duncan said adequate environmental flows were critical to the future of the endangered Macquarie Perch, particularly during times of drought.
“The Water Minister was warned prior to his October 2007 decision to reduce minimum passing flows in the Yarra, that such an action could put native fish in peril, so it’s very concerning that it now appears the Macquarie Perch have failed to breed,” she said.
“The clear scientific advice was that without adequate flows the Macquarie Perch’s habitat would be reduced to shallow pools and their eggs would be smothered in trapped sediment.
“Despite this advice and the government’s 2006 election promise to boost environmental flows to the Yarra, the Water Minister authorized an additional extraction of 10 billion litres a year from the Yarra River.”
EDO solicitor Brendan Sydes said the extraction of additional water should not have occurred until the proposal was referred to the Commonwealth to assess the impacts of further reducing flows on threatened species.
“The Macquarie Perch is listed as “endangered” under the EPBC Act and the government was well-informed that taking additional water from the Yarra would further endanger the species. The extraction of water without complying with the EPBC Act breaks federal law,” he said.
Ms Duncan said while the spring rainfall in recent days had brought temporary relief, over the last year the Yarra has been averaging at just 18 per cent of its long-term flow level because of high levels of ongoing extraction and reduced rainfall.
“The Yarra’s population of Macquarie Perch is the strongest remaining population in the state, and possibly Australia, so the survival of the Yarra population is critical to the survival of the entire species,” she said.
“Instead of taking more water from our rivers, the government should be acting on other options like boosting water efficiency in our homes and businesses, utilising more recycled water and harvesting storm water. These actions could save billions of litres of water and take the pressure off our water-deprived rivers.
“In the short-term, the government should also stop ignoring their own drought trigger levels and put Melbourne on Stage 4 water restrictions as regional centres like Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong have since 2006.”
The Macquarie Perch is listed as an endangered species under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.