River outlook bleak

A DAMNING new report raises concerns about the health of Tasmania’s rivers and their future management.

The Tasmanian Freshwater Project Report was instigated by the Tasmanian Independent Science Council.

Prepared by Christine Coughanowr, the report was released this week.

The report says a lack of systematic and coordinated monitoring and major delays in reporting by the State Government make it hard to get a clear picture of the situation.

The report says low rainfall, over-extraction for irrigation, agricultural runoff, flow through aquaculture hatcheries and heavy-metal pollution from mining have led to major problems in some of the state’s largest river systems, including the Derwent and South Esk.

“Tasmania’s freshwater resources can no longer be considered to be clean, green and abundant,” the report says.

It says reviews in 2018 and 2020 of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment’s river health monitoring program recorded up to 43 per cent of sites as impaired, with nearly 70 per cent of those showing a decline during the final five years of the program.

However, the report says the reality may be even worse.

“This poor outcome may well be an optimistic view, as the methods used and the sites monitored do not necessarily reflect worst-case conditions.

We may already be at or beyond a tipping point, with serious concerns about the next dry summer.”

The report has highlighted major failings in required reporting by the State Government and a lack of funding.

It says DPIPWE’s Water Resources division is one of its worst-funded sections and “hard-pressed to undertake the work needed for current levels of water use, much less for ambitious new programs.”

The report says Tasmania’s statutory five-yearly State of Environment report is two cycles overdue and reports on DPIPWE’s river program have been delayed or blocked.

With more irrigation being rolled out, Tasmanian Irrigation chief executive officer Andrew Kneebone said he had full confidence in the environmental assessment and management systems put in place.

Mr Kneebone said TI used very conservative figures and climate data in assessing river inflows to ensure the long-term reliability of the schemes and environmental sustainability.

All irrigators who buy water in the schemes are required to have a Farm Water Access Plan setting out how and when irrigation water can be used.

The report makes several key recommendations to be implemented before any further developments are undertaken, including a funding boost and support for monitoring, assessment, compliance and reporting.

It urges a review and reassessment of the environmental flows needed to sustain Tasmanian rivers.

A spokesperson said the State Government was delivering contemporary water management to protect the environment while supporting agriculture, renewable energy and jobs and the Rural Water Use Strategy aimed to protect environmental values and river health.

The Government recently allocated an additional $1.5 million over four years to set up a river health advisory project and to implement the strategy.

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