It was also an opportunity to remind him that this year his government has the power to safeguard unique and irreplaceable environments like Hattah forever through the development of a Murray-Darling Basin Plan that secures the health of the rivers and wetlands of northern Victoria.
Environment Victoria and Hattah Lakes have a long history together – we were highly active in the campaign to get environmental water delivered through the Living Murray program and fought hard to keep the pumps going when watering was threatened by political pressure in 2006. Our pioneering Hattah Lakes Storylines project used personal stories and films to demonstrate the affection and connection that so many people feel for this unique area. As it’s also my favourite spot in the whole Murray-Darling Basin, I jumped at the opportunity to join the Australian Conservation Foundation and Mallee CMA for the Minister’s tour.
We travelled throughout the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, which is looking fantastic after the recent rains. Trees that were severely stressed and looked virtually dead during the long dry years are putting on leaves, and River Red Gums that have been watered a few times in recent years are returning to full health. Water bird and native fish numbers are increasing and populations are primed for further breeding events in the spring.
Our tour started at Lake Kramen which has held water this year for the first time since the mid 1990s. For some trees this came too late but others were responding well. On the banks of the River Murray and Chalka Creek, Mallee CMA staff explained their environmental watering program and how detailed planning and monitoring have enhanced and improved the outcomes. They described how their new pumping station, to be built with funding from the Living Murray program, will be able to deliver sufficient water to fill all the main lakes. Best of all the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, who was travelling with us, said he would be able to supply enough environmental water to meet their needs.
The afternoon was spent paddling through Lakes Mournpall and Yerang – there is truly no better way to appreciate the beauty of the majestic River Red Gums than from a canoe and the Minister was clearly impressed and enjoying himself.
That evening we had the opportunity to impress on the Minister how important places like Hattah are to Victorians. As well as how our river systems and wetlands need enough water to thrive as a system and not just a series of isolated sites supplied by pumps and regulators, and how the Basin Plan should be based on good and robust science. The Minister responded by saying that he wanted a sound Plan to guide future investment in both environmental works and sustainable agriculture and that the Plan should deliver healthy river systems.