Press Release - December 9, 2021

‘Let rivers be rivers’: Community alliance says ecosystems must come first to tackle mounting crisis for Victoria’s waterways

December 9, 2021

An alliance of community and environment groups are calling for river ecosystems on the brink to be put first in a government strategy which will lock-in the next decade of water planning for southern Victoria.

The Concerned Waterways Alliance has today released a detailed response to the draft Central and Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy (SWS), which sets out what the group propose to be included in the final version.

The alliance including Environmental Justice Australia, Environment Victoria and partner groups from Gippsland to the Otways, was established this year to campaign for the SWS to meet the long-term crisis of water availability and declining ecosystem health.

The alliance says the government’s recently released strategy relegates environmental outcomes for precious rivers, while urban supply and consumptive use are prioritised.

The group has called for the government to stop its ‘magic pudding’ approach of promising everything to everyone and rather build greater resilience for these vital environmental assets.

It should implement health plans for rivers, wetlands and estuaries which reflect struggling ecosystems and put tools in place to allow them to thrive.

Every major river in southern Victoria is flow stressed and under threat. Many from East Gippsland to the Otways are at the limit of their resilience.

This strategy is a once in a decade opportunity to face the water crisis and restore Victoria’s waterways so that rivers can function as rivers rather than drains.

Environmental Justice Australia Senior Lawyer, Dr Bruce Lindsay said:

“The Sustainable Water Strategy is a critical opportunity to put Victorian waterways on the right path. The health of rivers in the Gippsland and Central regions will be the poor cousin in the government’s proposed approach.”

“We are urging the government to let rivers be rivers and set firm limits for water use, which is not only consistent with the statutory requirements of the strategy but is far more likely to drive the water supply outcome required.”

Waterways Network, Andrew Kelly said:

“We need to move away from the ‘magic pudding’ approach to water management and acknowledge the parlous state of our rivers.

“We are asking the government not to issue any new licences to take water from rivers and streams and to bring all water use into the licensing framework so that it can be accounted for and managed.”

Werribee River Association, John Forrester said:

“The Werribee River is the driest catchment in Victoria and heavily impacted by climate change, so the river is already at the limit of its resilience and desperately needs more water.

“We must treat recycled water to an appropriate standard to remove salt and contaminants so that it can be substituted for river water and more widely used. Improving the framework for the use of recycled water should be top priority in this strategy.”

Friends of Latrobe Water, Tracey Anton said:

“The restructure of the Latrobe Valley power industry is a massive opportunity to provide more fresh water for the Latrobe River and the Gippsland Lakes to improve their health.

“The government must rule out using river water to flood the mine pits once they close and commit to returning water currently allocated to support the power generators to the environment and Traditional Owners.”

Media contact: [email protected]