Macleay River
Community comment on the objectives

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For the Macleay River catchment, both a general community discussion meeting (attended by 105 people) and a meeting for Aboriginal people (attended by representatives of mid-north-coast Aboriginal communities) were held at Kempsey. Twelve written submissions were received.

Water quality and value of the resource

Opinion expressed in the submissions was divided. Some sections of the community wished to see no change from the current situation; others perceived problems that required a solution, and identified a broad range of environmental problems within the catchment (see 'Major issues', below).

There was widespread recognition that achievement of the objectives would have some cost for the community, although most comments indicated that having a healthy catchment was worthwhile. Many people strongly supported spreading the costs throughout the community-rather than targeting a particular sector-as they recognised that the community as a whole would benefit from achieving good water quality and a flow regime that protected both human and environmental health. The costs involved were seen to include improved monitoring to gauge future performance.

The build-up of silt and gravel bars in the lower parts of the Macleay River (particularly below the Georges River junction) was said to be exacerbating streambank erosion and downstream flooding. Related to this was a concern that land-clearing in the upper catchment was causing soil erosion. To deal with these problems, retaining or re-establishing riparian vegetation and preventing cattle access to streams were suggested. Regarding cattle access, the cost and impact of fencing (which might possibly restrict flood flows) were raised as issues.

Some people felt there was already too much regulation of the farming community and that the water reform process would only increase this. There were calls to let farmers 'get on with it'. As an example of over-regulation, people cited regulations preventing the removal of vegetation. As a result, casuarina and other native vegetation growing in silt and gravel bar areas could not be removed-even though they were impeding river flow which, in turn, was increasing flooding during high flows and the erosion of streambanks.

River flows

Flows were seen by some as being too high in flood times and too low during droughts. There were calls for a dam to even out the flows. Water availability was an important issue from a number of perspectives. Horticultural interests said they needed access to water at all times, and there was a feeling that existing licensees should have priority over new ones. Some conflict between the rights of riparian use and irrigation use was identified, and there was a concern that protecting pools during no-flow periods might render irrigation non-viable at times. There was some support for an increase in off-river storages, which could be filled during peak stream flows.

Some people were concerned about flood mitigation works in the estuarine areas. They felt that these increased the velocity of flow and thereby increased erosion. Others called for floodways to connect directly to the ocean. Still others were concerned that if floodgates were left open to encourage natural estuarine ecosystems to re-establish, then local fresh surface-waters and groundwaters would become saline again, thereby adversely affecting current users of that water. The problems associated with acid drainage from acid sulfate soils were also linked with the operation of flood-mitigation structures.

Oyster-growers in the estuary were concerned that a range of activities was affecting the quality of the oysters they produce. Direct discharge of inadequately treated sewage, acid drainage, and inadequate development controls were mentioned. There were calls for improved water monitoring, particularly for microorganisms.

There was also a perception that water quality along the river had deteriorated. Sewage discharge was often mentioned as a contributing cause, as was litter from recreational users of national parks in the catchment. It was noted that water quality is worse in droughts.

It was felt that, with the population increasing, it might prove difficult to maintain the status quo. This increase affects both water quality and the supply of water available for drinking. Effective development controls were called for.

There were concerns about the environmental objective-setting process and associated community consultation. Some felt there had been inadequate opportunity to contribute to the process at an earlier stage, and that there was a failure to address the 'hot spots' in the catchment in the process. No documentation of these hot spots was provided. Some people commented that they felt there was little point to the exercise, with the outcomes having already been determined before the community was consulted.

The catchment community generally supported the water quality objective of basic river health plus advanced human uses (although some people felt this meant opting for the status quo and that no additional action was considered necessary).

People were also concerned about the potential cost, effectiveness and practicality of measures suggested to achieve water quality that would support basic river health and advanced human uses. There was an overall feeling that some actions needed to be taken to halt or reverse environmental decline, so the setting of water quality and river flow objectives was welcomed-even though some people were sceptical about the process.

Major issues

The process of developing the objectives has identified the need for progressive action on the following major issues to achieve healthy and viable catchments (comment on some of these is included in Section 3 in the supporting information for the recommended objectives).

Existing programs

Some of the above issues already receive considerable attention and resources. Communities, through Landcare and other programs, are undertaking important on-the-ground projects. The NSW Government has established and funded programs such as Blue-Green Algae Management, Estuary Management Program, Floodplain Management Program, Wetlands Action, the Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program and the NSW Shellfish Quality Assurance Program. At the Commonwealth level, programs are being funded through Landcare and the Natural Heritage Trust.

Where management plans or programs such as these are already underway, they should be acknowledged and, where possible, incorporated in water and estuary management plans.

This page was published 1 May 2006