Climate change and population growth are challenging the health of our waterways and our water security and it is timely to consider our water future.
The Barwon River provides many services to the environment and the communities of Geelong, Bellarine and the Surf Coast. It nurtures essential riparian habitat from the uplands to the coast, including the Ramsar-listed wetlands. The Barwon and its tributaries are important assets for passive and active recreation:walking, cycling, fishing and boating. The Barwon is also the only source of drinking water for parts of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Surf Coast to Aireys Inlet.
Since the beginning of the Millennium Drought, water flows into the West Barwon Reservoir (pictured above) beyond Forest have dropped by about 30%. This is due to lower rainfall, drier catchments and changed patterns of rainfall. The Barwon Downs bore field used to supplement our water supplies but the Millennium Drought and excessive extraction dried out the groundwater dependent peat swamps which resulted in acid flows into Boundary Creek and the Barwon following heavy rainfall. Consequently, that bore field has been taken out of the system and will not be used again until the area can be remediated.
Barwon Water is co-designing long term options with the community to secure our water supply. In the short term there may be a need to commission the Anglesea bore field to supplement supply this year as water levels have dropped significantly over a long, hot summer (January was the driest on record). Barwon Water is preparing the bore sites in case they are required. The conditions of the entitlement to the bore field are very strict, and extraction will be carefully monitored throughout operation. In addition, the Anglesea River Working Group, of which ANGAIR is an active member, will regularly review the monitoring data.
Our recent dry spell also put pressure on the Barwon River and its tributaries, the Moorabool and the Yarrowee/Leigh. At one stage there was no natural flow in any of the rivers and the lower Barwon was supported by flows down the Leigh from the South Ballarat Treatment Plant and pumping from the Batesford quarry. Some relief was provided by accessing flows from an environmental water reserve. Mindful of the challenges facing the Barwon, the Ministers for Planning and Water established the Barwon Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC).
The Barwon MAC has held workshops up and down the rivers seeking the community’s vision for the rivers and identifying issues that must be addressed. A discussion paper will be available in early September on the Engage Vic website: https://engage.vic.gov.au/protecting-rivers-barwon-barra-warree-yulluk, and further workshops will be held. Issues relating to flow will be identified and then addressed through the Sustainable Water Strategy process which is underway.
There are many challenges facing river health and water security and it is important that all members of the community participate in co-designing our water future.