Blog | 9th Aug, 2010

Environmental Water and the new River Red Gum parks  

Well, I’m six months into my stint here as Healthy Rivers campaigner working to Rescue Our Rivers. 

I’ve been helping to draw up policies that will help give our rivers a drink. We’ve been talking to all and sundry up on Spring Street about the water crisis facing Victorians, and the messages we’re getting back are varied.

The push-back line “but my constituents just want to be able to water their gardens” tells me that there’s more work to be done still communicating the plight of our rivers, and how our behavior here in Melbourne affects their health.

That’s not to say that Melburnians haven’t done a great job of saving water. We’re valiantly meeting the state government’s Target 155, and bettering it in many households.

But there’s still a swathe of folks who haven’t yet realised that the water crisis ain’t going away, and that being able to water our gardens is a privilege. And there’s certainly more the state government can be doing to rescue our rivers.

And that’s just what’s going on here in town.

Mention that there’s real water savings to be made in regional Victoria – seeing as 75 percent of water used in the state is used by irrigator farmers and agribusiness – and you get the impression that the sensitivities, nuances and complexities of water use, river health and prosperous regional economies is all a bit too much for some.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We’ve got a plan to Rescue Our Rivers. A plan that calls for delivery of the flows (in the order of 700 billion litres!) promised to fifteen of Victoria’s rivers still waiting for a drink.

We welcomed the 17 billion litres returned to the Yarra in late July, and the drink offered to the Thomson River, but note that these amounts are just a dent in the more than 600 billion litres promised to our rivers and not yet delivered.

What can environmental water do?

Well, environmental managers and Mother Nature herself do wonders with the small amounts of environmental water delivered.

Barmah Forest – part of the recently declared River National ParkRed Gum system – is an internationally recognised wetland. The River Red Gum trees and wetland habitat provide feeding and breeding grounds for an array of plants and animals. The rivers, forests and wetlands rely on natural wet and dry periods, a seasonal sequence and system that has been turned upside with the ‘modernisation and development’ of river systems into dams, weirs, pipes, irrigation channels and associated over-extraction of water.

By spring of 2008 magnificent Red Gum trees, turtles and fish were dying in Barmah forest. But thankfully, these wetlands received a 300 million litre share of environmental water.

That year, turtles persisted and their condition improved. And white-bellied sea-eagles and superb parrots paid the forest a visit. With just a fraction of the water the ecosystem needed, Barmah forest improved and habitat for native fish species got a good drink and flourished.

A little bit of water can go a long way.

So asking for a decent drink for the new River Red Gum Parks is not only good management, but will mean the values for which these national parks have been declared will endure and flourish.

Our rivers and their floodplain ecosystems get such a tiny fraction of what was ‘entitled’ to them anyway (a mere one percent of ALL water entitlements delivered in 2007/08 was for the environment! see page four of our River Rescue Package).

Continually taking water from our rivers that they can’t afford to give up just isn’t on. And this state election year, there’s an opportunity to make a change in the way Victoria treat its rivers.