Gippsland Trouble Update: “The future of our Lakes”

****Dr. Peter Fisher will be speaking on this issue at the Bairnsdale Italian Australian Club on Thursday 20 April at 7:00pm. Free of charge. Bookings essential: ph. 5150 2300.****

©: Liz Wearne“The Gippsland Lakes are in serious trouble if the lack of water quality monitoring in catchment rivers continues. This has the potential to affect all businesses connected to the `jewel of Gippsland’, including tourism, industry and real estate.”
Retired engineer and advocate for improved water health throughout East Gippsland (and FOGL member), Ross Scott, raised the issue during an address to Bairnsdale Chamber of Commerce and Industry members last week.
“This is a key issue that will involve all business with a connection to the Gippsland Lakes,” Mr. Scott said.
“The Gippsland Lakes are stuffed unless we do something immediately about impacting issues.
The Lakes are under enormous pressure from land management practices to the west, and to a lesser extent the catchments feeding into Lake Victoria.
Currently, the health of Lake Victoria is heading to something similar to that of Lake Wellington and if this happens, I suggest many businesses will be forced out of business.
No longer will this area be a prime tourist destination. Property values will plummet and there will be a reversal of the current move of people from the city to the Gippsland Lakes area.
The main impacts on the lake chain include reduced freshwater inflows, increased salt water inflows and pollution from West Gippsland in the forms of nutrients, endocrine disruptors (hormones, steroids, antibiotics and pesticides) and plantation forestry.
The Thompson, Tanjil, Macalister and Mitchell Rivers all have dams. These storages, together with irrigation extracted directly from the waterways, along with irrigation channel diversions from the Thompson River at Cowwarr and Glenmaggie Weir on the Macalister, results in greatly reduced freshwater inflows to the lake chain.
With the salt water, in the past the Lakes ranged from fresh to brackish, dependant on the condition of the natural entrance at Barrier Landing.
Now, with the entrance to the lakes being maintained open, and with reduced freshwater inflows, Lake Victoria is progressively getting saltier.
The channel from the entrance into the Lakes is deepening, permitting more salt water to access the Lakes with each tide.
In regard to pollution from West Gippsland, phosphorus and nitrogen fertilisers continue to mobilise off farming areas and into the watershed, particularly in times of storm events.
There is a history of industry blatantly misunderstanding the nutrient loads entering Lake Wellington.
Endocrine disruptors are where my main concern lies, as intense farming practices have resulted in a large increase in the application of hormones, steroids, antibiotics and pesticides.
A considerable percentage of these applications goes to waste and enters the watershed.
Many sewerage treatment plants in the Latrobe Valley discharge treated effluent directly into waterways. The effluent contains a similar range of products as farm runoff. These products enter Lake Wellington and therefore Lake Victoria.”
Mr Scott and Dr Peter Fisher gained some philanthropic funding to conduct 15 initial tests for endocrine disruptors across the Gippsland Lakes and the initial discoveries were “horrific”.
“We need additional and more comprehensive tests to take this information to the next level, however, after approaching a number of water testing bodies and organisations, we were denied funding. I have made a series of phone calls to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in regards to what testing is being undertaken in the Gippsland Lakes. Apart from some advanced ‘Waterwatch’ type testing involving pH, turbidity, electrical conductivity and a few others, nothing is being done to test endocrine disruptors.
Further probing into testing facilities uncovered that there are not even laboratory facilities in Victoria to undertake these tests.
All continuous water quality monitoring sites established on the lower Latrobe and Thompson Rivers were removed in 2001 and have just been reestablished.
Once again, nutrient loads entering the Lakes from the upper Latrobe catchment will be identified, but nothing is known about levels in the past five years anything could have gone in during this time.
Another major issue is the clear felling of old growth forest and its replacement with short cycle plantation forestry practice. This is resulting in a massive increase in soil mobilisation, increased turbidity and reduced water yield to catchment waterways.
The increased use of fertilisers and herbicide sprays in these plantations is impacting on waterways and the Gippsland Lakes.
I thoroughly urge Bairnsdale Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and all residents of East Gippsland to take up this issue and help raise awareness.
It is vitally important that we increase funding for monitoring, identifying and then addressing the loads of nutrients, hormones, antibiotics, steroids and pesticides that are entering the Lakes.”

This article taken from East Gippsland News Feb. 8 2006