Despite working on the river every day, Neil McInnes says he loves to sit on the river’s banks and listen to the birds. “It’s a nice peaceful place, it really is the artery of the area.”
Combined with excess sediment and nutrients in the river from erosion, unrestricted stock and effluent, a lack of water in the river has lead to regular toxic blue-green algal blooms at Geelong.
Neil has been working with his team to restrict stock access, restore the river’s banks and monitor the river’s water quality. “We’re trying to get a picture of the health of the river through regularly measuring salinity, turbidity and nutrient levels.”
Neil explains that scar trees along the river show where, hundreds of years ago, the Wathaurong people carved out large pieces of bark to make canoes for travelling along the river. Prior to European settlement, the Barwon was important to the Wathaurong people as a food and water source and it is still a place of spiritual significance today.
The Corangamite Catchment Management Authority is also helping to add to this picture – from the air. Earlier in the year, they used a helicopter to fly over the entire river to get a snapshot of what it looked like from the air.
As the river winds through Neil’s ‘patch’, from Deans Marsh to Inverleigh, the photos clearly tell a sad story.
Veins of gorse and willow trees choke the river as it courses through the little town of Birregurra.
The river’s once extensive wetlands are now drained to make way for pasture and houses.
Its denuded banks, stripped of vegetation, mean the river is merely a channel in parts, as it courses through the dairy country inland from Otways National Park.
Neil and his team are stabilising the stream with rock structures and revegetating parts of the river to provide a buffer zone between the nutrient-loaded pasture and the river.
Despite the challenges ahead of him, Neil is optimistic about the future of the river. “Although there is still a long way to go, a significant driver of improvement in the health of the Barwon catchment is individual landholders and community groups partnering with Landcare and the Corangamite CMA to achieve mutual goals. My vision is that this will continue to build, from the source to the sea, resulting in a productive landscape containing vibrant communities that continue to learn more about the environment and appreciate it.”
Story by Anna Boustead