Water [1]: reports, reports everywhere…

We’re not lacking in water reports. FOBIF’s collection includes [among others] the 2004 White Paper, the 2003 and 2013 North Central Catchment Strategy, the 2009 Northern Region Sustainable water strategy, and the State’s 2013 Waterway management strategy—all reasonably hefty documents around 200 pages, replete with graphs and tables. And that’s not counting the documentation for the Murray Darling Basin…

Have they had any effect? The latest to appear, the Water for Victoria discussion paper, has a stream condition map [see below] which shows the terrible state our rivers are in: and it’s not very different from a stream condition map published in the 2004 White Paper. Have all the efforts in the intervening years been in vain? Well, you could argue, as the discussion paper does, that ‘the good news is that successive condition assessments  of major rivers show the deterioration in river condition has been controlled. This is encouraging given the third assessment period [2004-10] coincided with the Millennium Drought.’

Percentage of stream length in good or excellent condition, 2013: Victoria's waterways are not in great shape, and seem to have deteriorated since the 2004 White Paper.

Percentage of stream length in good or excellent condition, 2013: Victoria’s waterways are not in great shape, and seem to have deteriorated since the 2004 White Paper.

 

 

So: all the effort put in by landcare groups, enlightened farmers and government programs hasn’t been wasted.

You can find the discussion paper here, and have your say on water matters, if you want to influence the final version of the policy, due to appear towards the middle of the year. We’ve noted a few interesting questions arising from the paper in the post below

The public consultation is open till May 13. The website allows you to make a submission, or just toss in an idea: and you can read the many interesting contributions which are already being made to the discussion.

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Water [2]: more from less

One of the problems with Government policy papers is that they tend to be relentlessly positive, to want to be friends with everyone: ‘We will manage water to support a healthy environment, a prosperous economy and thriving communities, now and into the future.’

This isn’t going to be easy: the paper tells us that we can expect a long term increase in temperature, reduced rainfall and runoff and decreased groundwater recharge, and an increased frequency of drought. It also tells us Victoria’s population is likely to double to 10 million by 2051. How can more people be kept prosperous and thriving on less water?

Average rainfall during the cooler months of the year [April-October inclusive]1986-2015. Source: Bureau of Meteorology, from page 6, Water for Victoria

Average rainfall change during the winter months of the year [April-October inclusive] 1986-2015

Apart from proposing increasing use of the desal plant, the paper tends to make optimistic—even grandiose— gestures in the direction of efficiency and cleverness: for example, we’re told that ‘‘Victoria’s water sector will help transform Victoria’s cities and towns into the most resilient and liveable in the world.’ A visitor to Melbourne’s vast and expanding sprawl will wonder when this transformation is going to start.

In the meantime, less grandiose solutions to the water problem aren’t approached with great urgency in this paper.

For example, the 2004 White Paper proposed a water recycling target of 20% by 2010. This current discussion paper reveals that currently 2% of ‘water for taken for consumptive purposes’ is recycled: and it makes only vague gestures at improving this figure.

Or take ornamental dams. With the explosion of urban fringe development around country towns, the number of these has exploded. The Nationals MP for Northern Victoria, Damian Drum, has estimated that “…In our part of the state as much as 124 billion litres of water a year don’t make it to our creeks and streams because of the explosion in small, mostly unlicensed dams.”

This has been a concern for many years. So what’s the discussion paper say? ‘This discussion paper proposes a review to consider the introduction of a reasonable use limit, in consultation with the community.’ [page 108] That is, let’s talk some more. Consultation is great, of course: but how long should it go on before you actually decide to do something?

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Water [3]: what about the environment?

We should say right off that this paper’s an advance on the 2013 strategy in that it confronts the question of climate change, something the Coalition government habitually covered up with the gormless phrase, ‘natural climate variability.’

There are some things in it which are disconcerting, however.

One is the role of the desal plant. It’s hard to see how use of this heavy emitter sits with the paper’s stated aim of achieving ‘carbon neutrality’ for the water sector.

Another is confirmation that the Murray Darling basin plan will deliver 2,750 gigalitres of water back into the system as environmental flows. This is maybe half of what scientists say is necessary to keep the system viable: but the paper confirms that more will only be available if it can be delivered ‘with neutral or positive socio-economic effects.’ This is peculiar logic: if the river system dies, or goes into steep decline, wouldn’t that have an extremely negative ‘socio economic effect’?

The discussion paper, packed as it is with charts and diagrams, isn’t an easy read—but it’s hard to find a more important subject to think about–so if you have the time, put in your oar.  FOBIF will be making a short submission to the discussion.

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Fire: some answers

FOBIF has had an answer from DELWP to its February submission to the upcoming Fire Operations Plan. The Department’s letter, from Andrew Koren, regional manager of planned burning, essentially breaks down into the following points:

  1. How does the Department’s planning for public land fit with fire prevention works on private land?  ‘Over the next five years as DELWP partner with other fire managers and the community there will be a move to look at fire risk across both public and private lands…in 2016 DELWP and CFA will be working towards start identifying and integrating private land works in high risk areas.’
  2. How has the new Risk Landscape policy changed approaches to fire management?  ‘[DELWP] works will continue to be informed by the West Central Risk Landscapes strategic planning. More details can be found at http://www.delwp.vic.gov.au/safer-together ‘
  3. On FOBIF’s concern about destructive track works: ‘Where possible DELWP try to minimise the impacts of track works on vegetation, soils and other values.’
  4. On FOBIF’s concern about large area burns, specifically the Gough’s Range cluster: ‘we are willing to come and meet with you and your group…for a targeted and open discussion.’

We’ll take up the invitation to meet with DELWP over proposed large area burns. On the other questions, readers can make up their own minds as to whether much has changed in fire policy. It seems, however, that implementation of a ‘tenure blind’ policy of fuel management is a fair way off, and that the risk landscapes policy still needs a bit of explanation before it’s clear to the public.

On this last subject, we’ve questioned DELWP about their plans to burn a small reserve in the Chewton Bushlands, surrounded by a large area of private bush. In reply, Ben Matthews, acting regional manager for the West Central Bushfire Risk Landscape project, has stated that ‘Although it may be better risk reduction on private land it could be a long time before we can actually implement any works in these areas.’

In other words, public bushland still bears the brunt of fuel reduction actions, even though a lot of the risk is on private land.

On the subject of destructive track works: we’ll continue to lobby DELWP on the meaning of the phrase ‘where possible.’ We believe that if the Department is really serious about the health of the land it’s responsible for, then it should reconsider the disastrously destructive practices it’s routinely perpetrated in the past.

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Big turnout for April FOBIF walk

Close to seventy people came along to the April FOBIF walk in the Yapeen and Guildford plateau area. The weather was sunny with a light breeze and walkers enjoyed the sensational views in all directions from Max Kay’s property.

Looking towards Campbells Creek. Photo by Liz Martin

Looking towards Campbells Creek. Photo by Liz Martin

Commentary on this historic and interesting geological area was given by Max, Julian Hollis and Maurie Dynon. Some highlights were the viewing of several Koori scar trees, gathering at ‘Strathloddon’ which was the 1840’s site of the first non indigenous settlement in the Castlemaine district, and Julian’s comments on the geological history of the area including the formation of the Guildford plateau. Maurie also gave a well-received talk on the work of the Guildford Landcare Group.

FOBIF would like to thank Max for helping to organise this walk on his property and all three leaders for sharing their knowledge.

Our next walk will be on 15 May to Cobblers Gully and Herons Reef. Leaders are Lionel Jenkins and Barb Guerin. Details can be found here.

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New local weed brochure

weed brochure

Click on image to view the whole leaflet.

Harcourt Valley Landcare group and FOBIF are proud to announce the release of the local weed guide. This guide is intended as an introduction to some new and established weeds in the Castlemaine region. It gives a brief description of eight weeds you might see in and around our bush and agricultural areas and helpful links to further reading and websites with more information. Hopefully the guide triggers the treatment of these get away species. 

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Muckleford Creek: past memories, present reality

If you haven’t seen it already, go down to the Castlemaine Market building and have a look at Deanna Neville’s exhibition, A camera and a creek: glimpses of the Muckleford Creek, accompanied by reflections on the creek’s past and present by local residents. A short introductory note by Muckleford Landcare’s Paul Hampton sums up the excellent photos: the pictures of ancient trees clinging to eroded banks are both ‘disturbing and awe-inspiring’. The exhibition runs till April 29.

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Family Bush Walk

family bush walk

You can download the above as a flyer.

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Rubbish, again…and again

Here we go again: Kalimna Park is under attack from rubbish dumpers, and the target area is one that seems to be a favourite: the side track near the Bicentennial plaque, opposite Kalimna Point.

Rubbish strewn over the track opposite Kalimna Point. A couch has been pushed into the bush nearby. This track has to be frequently cleaned by Parks Victoria, at the taxpayers' expense.

Rubbish strewn over the track opposite Kalimna Point. A couch has been pushed into the bush nearby. This track has to be frequently cleaned by Parks Victoria, at the taxpayers’ expense.

FOBIF  has lobbied the Mount Alexander Shire in the past to make rubbish dumping less attractive by making legal rubbish disposal easier–and we weren’t the only ones. Unfortunately the result has been, no go:  the usual response being that free tipping, or a hard rubbish collection, or free disposal of green waste, are all too expensive.

Now the shire council is looking at the problem afresh, with its Waste and Resource Recovery Plan 2016-2020. This will be drawn up by a reference group, which will consider, among other things ‘community attitudes on waste, recycling and resource recovery, including green waste, organics and hard rubbish collection.’ You can have your say on the matter here,. Submissions close on May 2.

Illegal dumping costs the shire, so maybe some of the ideas regularly put to it ]about tipping concessions, and so on] would be cheaper than the current situation. It would certainly save money for Parks Victoria [that is, the taxpayer], which has to regularly clean up rubbish dumps in the bush. In the case of Kalimna, maybe Parks could consider closing off tracks which are obvious targets for dumping.

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Pyrenees Highway: looking for answers

FOBIF has made a submission to Vicroads on the Safe Roads project, which aims to reduce ‘run-off roads’ accidents, mainly by installing barriers and removing vegetation likely to be on the end of a crashing vehicle.

Our submission aims to preserve the safety benefits of the project while minimising damage to vegetation. The substance of our submission follows:

‘For historical reasons, highway corridors in this region are valuable reserves of large trees, of a size not common in state forests and other reserves. Further, even trees rated as ‘medium’ by statewide standards, are relatively large in this area, and worth considering as highly valuable.

‘We appreciate your engineers’ efforts to minimise vegetation removal for this project, but we believe that the emphasis of the project is too heavily on coping with run off road accidents, and not enough on avoiding them.

‘We agree that saving lives should be the main focus of this, as of any highway project. But in our opinion driver behaviour, and ways of modifying it, should be the main object of attention here: this is a winding stretch of road, and every effort should be made to persuade drivers to drive accordingly.

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