When we think of Gippsland, we tend to think wet and green. It’s home to some of Victoria’s healthiest river systems, with intact vegetation and low demand for water. But even this usually lush corner is not immune to climate change, and West Gippsland’s rivers are made to work hard to supply water to power stations and other industry, to agriculture and even to Melbourne .
Gippsland’s climate is becoming warmer and drier, river flows are dropping and rising sea levels are threatening the internationally significant Gippsland Lakes and the beautiful coast line. The situation is made all the more immediate because the Latrobe Valley in West Gippsland is home to Victoria’s dirty coal-fired power stations, Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang.
Gippsland also has a reputation for clean, green agriculture and beautiful produce. While it’s true that Gippsland is a foodies’ mecca with great food and excellent wine, this comes at great cost to the rivers and the lakes, with water being extracted for irrigation and nutrient pollution from fertilisers ending up in the lakes. Coupled with toxic pollution from previous gold mining and the coal-fired power stations, its pretty bad news for the Lakes. To cap it all the Thomson River has been dammed and its water diverted through a tunnel to supply Melbourne. The idea was to droughtproof the City but the river is missing its water.
Fortunately there is a great opportunity to fix some of the river health issues and reduce carbon emissions – close Hazelwood power station!
If the state government replaced Hazelwood, much of this water could be returned to the struggling Latrobe River which flows into the Gippsland Lakes.
The Gippsland Lakes are the largest freshwater lakes system in Australia. They are internationally significant as a haven for the world’s declining water-bird populations and are considered the region’s greatest asset for tourism, lifestyle, commercial and recreational fishing and boating.
But in the face of climate change and the impacts of consumptive users, inflows into the rivers that feed the Gippsland Lakes have been dramatically reduced. Without enough freshwater, the Lakes system is in steep decline.
The best way to restore the balance is to reduce the impacts of climate change and return water to the rivers that flow into the internationally significant Lakes system.
So, replacing Hazelwood is good for climate change, and returning Hazelwood’s water entitlement will help rescue our rivers.