Lachlan River
Community comment on the objectives

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About 460 people attended community discussion meetings held in the Lachlan River catchment-at Cowra on 10 March, at Condobolin on 11 March and at Hillston on 12 March 1998. Sixteen written submissions were also received. A meeting was held in Wagga Wagga for Aboriginal people from south-western NSW and was attended by people from the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray catchments.

The issues raised and comments made will be considered by the local river management committee when developing management plans.

Value of the water resource

At the Cowra, Condobolin and Hillston meetings, people expressed a great deal of concern about the river management committee process, the flow rules and, more broadly, the whole water reform process-including the setting of objectives, and initiatives such as the 1995 'cap' on water use within the Murray-Darling Basin.

People indicated that they regard the health of the river ecosystems as very important, and most said they want better water quality. The impact of carp and increasing salinity were the community's major environmental concerns. Other problems were mentioned-such as the effluent load and rubbish from towns, industry and abattoirs entering the river; erosion causing banks to fall in and be too steep for stock access (attributed to carp); direct access of cattle to the river; sedimentation and build up of plants such as cumbungi and willows; lack of regeneration of river red gum and loss of waterside native vegetation; dead trees in the river; some weed infestations (Lippia); muddy water (attributed to carp); the impact of storages on water quality-such as Lake Brewster on turbidity and algae, and Wyangala Dam on temperature (water is colder); and algal blooms.

There was some support for returning water plants (such as Vallisneria) to the river to act as filters, but this would require controlling carp first.

The community said they wanted local input to water management, and that there should be equitable access to water. People felt that the costs of change should be spread across the community as a whole.

There was support for community education on the catchment's environmental issues, to raise people's awareness of the complexity of both the causes and symptoms of these issues. People also asked for information on the social impacts of the water reforms, and for scientific evidence to support the need for action.

People at the regional Aboriginal meeting raised several concerns relevant to environmental objectives. These included concerns about weirs, inadequate fish passage, regulators and levee banks affecting flows through billabongs and other wetlands, flows being unnatural, insufficient recycling and efficiency in water use, water returning to creeks and rivers from irrigation areas and rising saline groundwater. Water pollution was regarded as a likely cause of ear infections. Medicinal and food plants could no longer be found in some billabongs and native fish were harder to catch. People at this meeting were worried that mining in Lake Cowal would affect wetlands and flows downstream.

Aboriginal people wanted rights that were respected and to be consulted more. They requested training and opportunities to help restore river health.

The most important uses of water in the catchment are for irrigation, homestead water supply, and for watering livestock. Water is also used for drinking, swimming, canoeing, picnicking and fishing; and to provide a pleasant environment (aesthetic uses).

People said they want to see waterbirds, have abundant native fish and to preserve biodiversity. Some made a connection between these requirements and the flushing and flooding of billabongs and swamps-with wetting in wet seasons and drying in dry seasons. Some people were most concerned about the health of the river-wanting a clean, healthy river-because they recognised both their own dependence on the river and the needs of future generations. Others did not acknowledge any problems with the river, or did not think an improvement was worth the cost. Some said the problems were with government interference and lack of understanding.

Water quality

There was majority support for maintaining all environmental values all along the river; some support for maintaining aquatic ecosystems and visual amenity only; and some support for these uses plus boating, watering livestock, and irrigation with medium salinity water.

River flows

The community was concerned about most aspects of the flow regime, particularly low flows, high flows, and variability. Some said they wanted more dams and weirs; others wanted more natural flows and were concerned about the cold water released from dams. Some wanted more regular flows, with less rise and fall; others were concerned about prolonged high flows or floods. Some pointed out that less surface water available for irrigation could mean more use of groundwater.

People said that the community must be viable economically in order to protect the ecology of the river. Some people recognised the benefits of proposed changes to the flow regime-such as the flooding of productive 'wetland' pastures-or said any cost was worth it. Some predicted that they would be severely economically disadvantaged by any changes and would not be able to afford the needed improvements to land and water management. However, there was also support for more efficient water use, by irrigators in particular; and a call for all water users to be accountable for the water they used.

Major issues

The process of developing the objectives identified various major issues that need progressive action to achieve a healthy and viable Lachlan River system. Comments on some of these are included in Section 3, as part of the supporting information for the recommended objectives.

The following issues were identified during the community consultation as needing priority action:

Also in need of priority attention are actions to:

Existing programs

Some of the above issues have already received considerable attention and resources. Communities are already undertaking important on-the-ground projects. The NSW Government has established and funded programs such as Salt Action, Blue-Green Algae Management, the Carp Assessment and Reduction Program, the Floodplain Management Program, Wetlands Action, the Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program, and the Urban Stormwater Management Program. At the Commonwealth level, programs are being funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Landcare and the Natural Heritage Trust.

Where such programs are already underway, they need to be recognised and, as far as possible, incorporated in the river management plan.

This page was published 1 May 2006