By Mitch Guy
THE Powlett River was allowed to flow into the ocean again on Friday after the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA) decided to artificially open its mouth.
Following substantial flooding of the area for over six weeks, a Parks Victoria excavator navigated its way through the sandy tracks to the mouth and began digging up sand in the morning, with the mouth open and flowing by the afternoon.
WGCMA Community Waterways Officer, Matt Khoury, said the authority has been looking for an opportunity to open the estuary since the flood waters reached a level of 2.5m.
“Up until that point we’ve been accessing the risks involved with opening or not opening the estuary to the environmental assets and also the socioeconomic assets – the farmland, roads,” he said.
“It’s got to the point where the risk to farmland is quite high, so we’ve been looking for an option to open the estuary but to do so we need the oxygen levels to be OK and we really do require a bit of river flow.
“This is the best opportunity we’ve had so far – the oxygen levels have recovered a little bit so we should have conditions to do a safe opening without doing too much damage to the environment.”
Mr Khoury said the WGCMA was not worried about the impact to fish.
“We’re opening on the left-hand side; there’s a rock platform there that will control the flow so it can’t get below a certain height,” he said.
“Normally we’d open it up on the right-hand side but just to be safe and so we don’t cause fish kills and things like that, we’ve gone to this side.”
The mouth was opened on high tide and the water was expected to clear into the ocean quickly.
Flood waters were expected to disperse by Saturday afternoon.
Local property owner Robin Lowe said he was relieved that the mouth has finally been opened, but said the damage to his land had already been done.
“The water will go and there’s going to be a bit of mess left,” he said.
“The rotten vegetation is going to smell and whilst there’s going to be some grounds come back, we’re still left with the dilemma of what we’re going to do with our property.”
Mr Lowe believes there has been substantial long-term damage to his pastures, and is unsure whether it will ever recover to the stage it was before WGCMA took control of the management of the artificial opening of the river mouth.
He predicted that the same problem will occur in the future.
“What we’ve put to the government and the WGCMA is that the two worlds can’t live together,” he said.
“It’s got to be one way or the other – either go with the wetlands scenario or farmland scenario. If it’s the farmland scenario we need to go back to the practice of opening the river on demand as required and if it’s the wetlands scenario, the government needs to adequately compensate people so they can go off and farm somewhere else.
“I’m not opposed to it, if it’s for the greater good. If it is truly a place of national significance then we should support it and clear everyone out, compensate them well so they can be happy and start work somewhere else and let it be as good as it can be.
“I’m very much in favour of the environment if we can do something for the greater good, but at end of day you can’t expect people to fund it through their life savings or their properties.”