Alliance is seeking better protection for waterways

An alliance of community and environment groups says our waterways must be better protected, with more weight added to the needs of the environment when decisions are made.

AN alliance of community and environment groups have made a public plea to the state government to drastically change tack on water management.
The alliance has published a joint statement and written to Acting Water Minster Richard Wynne, as the government prepares the Central and Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy, which will lock in the next 10 years of water management for an area covering waterways and catchments south of the Great Divide down to the coast from the Otways to east Gippsland.
The groups fear the new strategy will repeat decades of what it says are unsustainable water management practices which have resulted in the deterioration of river ecosystem health across the state and made no substantial departure from the extractive practices that endanger waterways.
They also assert the concerns of community and environment groups have been ignored in an opaque process and in favour of a commodification approach that is in direct contradiction with sustainability — and that this could lead to further deterioration of waterways and even ecosystem collapse.
The Central and Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy covers a huge portion of Victoria’s rivers and waterways including the Yarra, Barwon, Latrobe, Thomson, Snowy and Mitchell rivers.
The joint statement outlines the alliance’s concerns about what it claims are unsustainable water management practices across the regions, and makes a series of recommendations for ensuring environmental protection is at the core of the new strategy.
Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Elke Nicholson said Victoria was facing a “water crisis”.
“Our rivers are depleted by over-extraction; wetlands on the brink of collapse due to insufficient flows; groundwater-dependent ecosystems drying and dying; and contaminants leaching into our waterways,” she said.
“The decade ahead will see intensifying threats to the availability and quality of water to meet human and environmental needs.
“Pressure is rising from a collision of cumulative factors which need to be adequately addressed: population growth, climate change and decades of water management practices viewing water as an endlessly extractable resource for human use.
“Our alliance of individuals and community groups has come together in our shared concern over the inaction and mismanagement of water in Victoria to raise a united voice for the rivers and waterways of the central and Gippsland regions, a voice that is currently being ignored in the state government’s development of the next 10-year sustainable water strategy.”
Cameron Steele from People for a Living Moorabool said there continued to be deep concerns the views of community environment groups were being ignored.
“So far the new Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy has been prepared with manifestly inadequate attempts to engage and integrate the voice of community environmental organisations,” he said.
“This needs to change,” he said.
“The knowledge and perspective of environmental advocacy groups is essential to inform
the urgent policy shifts needed to restore our waterways.
“The Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy is an opportunity to respond to the water crisis with ambition and foresight, to clearly articulate the emergency we face and to bring water policy in line with a resilient water future.
“The government must not marginalise the views of community organisations — doing so runs counter to the central intention of the [strategy] and squanders a vital opportunity.”
Tracey Anton from Friends of Latrobe Water said it was critical the state government didn’t
repeat the mistakes of the past when managing precious water sources.
“Decades of over-extraction and mismanagement have left our waterways depleted, diverted and polluted,” she said.
“Without a strategy that incorporates the rehabilitation and restoration of these waterways, our region’s environment has little chance of recovery and faces a bleak future.
“Water management must work within our ecological limits and it must work to protect,
restore and connect the precious water sources we have left.
“This is an enormous opportunity for the Victorian government to right past wrongs and create a genuinely sustainable future for our region’s waterways.”
Andrew Kelly from Yarra Riverkeeper hoped the government seriously considered the concerns and recommendations outlined in the joint statement and letter to the minister, and genuinely engage with the community and environment groups so strategy could be the powerful tool for environmental protection that it was intended to be.
“Without a drastic change of tack in the way water is managed, the rivers, lakes and wetlands and the magnificent wildlife that lives there could be lost forever, and little water will remain for anyone,” he said.
Friends of Latrobe Water, Gippsland Environment Group, Gippsland Lakes Recreational Fishing Alliance are among the signatories to the joint statement.