Listening to the Lachlan

By Trudi Refshauge (Note: this BLOG does not cover all conference topics and issues)

Listening to the Lachlan was a two-day conference, held in Forbes, 21st and 22nd June 2022, exploring social, economic, ecological, and cultural issues currently connecting to the Lachlan River.

Stakeholders from the Upper Lachlan (Reids Flat) to the lower Macquarie Marshes, joined irrigators, ecologists, engineers, graziers, first nations peoples, politicians, and government agents, offering facts, feelings, reports, and concerns about the Lachlan River.

Central West Lachlan Landcare, Mid-Lachlan Landcare, Lachlandcare and Hovells Creek Landcare sent representation.

The Issues (The following conference questions revealed several key issues)

Do more dams make more water? Is raising the Wyangala Dam wall robbing Peter to pay Paul? (e.g., will downstream farmers gain water security while upstream farmers lose their productive grazing lands?

Does Raising a Dam wall make sense, if it means drowning a critically threatened Grassy Box Woodland? (NOTE: 1 % of this ancient Eucalypt ecosystem remains in the Central West, having cleared most woodlands for agriculture).

The proposed Wyangala Dam wall upgrade will require a vehicle movement about every 33 seconds during the build, and every second vehicle will be a heavy truck. 875,000 truckloads of earth and gravel, equaling one truck every 18 minutes for four years. How will this effect local roads, or the people, livestock and native fauna that share the road?

Will irrigating from the Lachlan River become more expensive than irrigating with bottled water? (A $2 billion upgrade = $30,000 per mega-litre).

Can the dam be managed for both flood and drought mitigation (meaning it will need to be kept full but have air-space at the same time)?

The Lachlan River’s catchment is disconnected from the Murray-Darling Basin. Has it missed out on critical funding for water efficiency programs and largely been forgotten by government?

How do we value ducks and native fish populations opposed to irrigation production systems?

How can The River’s connected flood plains and wetlands be maintained in a hotter, drying climate?

Country is currently and noticeably drying from the bottom up (small and medium size flood/flow events have stopped and major flow events are now smaller). The downstream floodplains have dried out since the 1971 raising of the Wyangala Dam wall, so what will happen if the wall is raised higher?

What effects has the decline of 71 % of water coming into the Great Cumbung swamp had on water birds (as water birds eat grass-hoppers, does bird loss contribute to pest plagues and ecosystem decline?

Has ‘The River’ become a (turbid and sand-clogged) pipeline for irrigators and towns as opposed to a once sacred common, offering clear water, food, and access to all?

Has the introduced system of trading water moved all the power to the high-end user and is this fair?

Australian National University researcher discussed Forbes railway line as contributing to existing flood problems for Forbes and suggested their were engineering solutions to mitigate this issue.

Cultural issues????

The Solutions

  • Transfer costs of building Wyangala Dam wall to invest in alternative water security measures;
  • Develop systems that both utilize groundwater and allow for full aquifer recharge
  • Instill water treatment plants for towns to reuse and recycle storm and waste water
  • Support irrigators to update and improve their water efficiency (e.g. pipelines)
  • Allow more flows to flood plains allowing waterbirds and other native species to flourish
  • Control all land erosion sites that contribute to the existing and growing sand slug
  • Protect and restore a long-term water plan supporting people and food security as well as indigenous culture and ecological diversity (particularly protecting water bird and native fish breeding habitats).

Key Facts

  • The Lachlan River is the 4th longest river system in Australia.
  • It is the only river with a decreasing channel capacity, that terminates inland (into the Great Cumbung Swamp).
  • There is a complex system of governance aligned to the River and its wetlands (independent rules exist for irrigators, towns and each of the following systems; Lake Cowal, Lake Brewster, The Great Cumbung Swamp, the Macquarie Marshes).
  • There is currently an expanding 150-kilometre-long sand slug moving downstream from Wyangala Dam, filling and suffocating fish breeding holes, causing localized flooding beneath bridges, and becoming problematic to irrigators. 
  • Since 1971 (construction Wyangala Dam wall 2), Macquarie Marshes has flipped from being a wet, constantly flooded system to a dry, occasionally flooded system.

Concluding statement from Macquarie Marshes farmer Garry Hall

Climate change is real and it’s here and we all need to Listen to the Lachlan to help it survive.”

A huge congratulations to Pennie Scott (a Canowindra local) who organised this special conference.

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