By Mitch Guy
THE West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority’s (WGCMA) sudden decision to artificially open the mouth of the Powlett River on Friday has failed, with a lack of river flow blamed for the mouth naturally closing again over the weekend.
Parks Victoria contractors were ordered to attempt the opening with an excavator on Friday, in time for the peak of high tide on dark.
Last year, the closure of the mouth of the river and the WGCMA’s reluctance to artificially open it caused water levels to rise, flooding roads and farmland for two months from May to July.
After 80 per cent of his 36 acre property was inundated with water during last year’s flooding, local resident Robin Lowe has one simple question – why now?
His campaign to either artificially open the mouth or compensate residents affected by subsequent flood waters has been well documented.
The failed opening on Friday has Mr Lowe suspicious of an ulterior motive for the mouth to be opened now.
He believes a letter he penned to Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water five weeks ago might have something to do with the sudden desire to open
“I basically said we’ve been waiting patiently and I think 11 years is enough time to wait patiently for some sort of result,” he said.
“I said if you’re not going to support us through this situation that has been created by the change of policy or management, then either pull the plug out and don’t allow it to happen or compensate us.
“If you’re going to keep inundating us then maybe unfortunately we might need to take it through the courts.
“We’re backed into a corner and have nowhere to go. I’ve tried to work with them but how long do you wait?
“I think 11 years has been long enough, while all the time our property has been degraded.”
The possibility that the opening may be to protect the nearby Wonthaggi desalination plant was also raised by Mr Lowe.
But WGCMA CEO Martin Fuller denied the desalination plant had anything to do with the opening and the decision was made by the WGCMA.
Mr Fuller said the WGCMA decided Friday was the most suitable window to conduct a safe opening, based on the water quality and river flow conditions at the time.
“There was never any certainty that it would be sustained due to the amount of river flow and lack of water in the estuary,” he said.
“All decisions to artificially open the estuary mouth during a closure are based on the risk of opening versus not opening the estuary and balancing the environmental needs with socio-economic needs.
“Artificial openings can jeopardise the integrity of the estuarine environment, as many plants and animals found in these environments rely on the natural processes that come with a natural closure and opening.
“Unfortunately there was not enough water in the estuary or river flow for the opening to be sustained and it closed naturally again over the weekend.
“If we decide another opening can be conducted safely based on the risks, feasibility and that conditions are right for the opening to be sustained, then Parks Victoria will carry out this process again.”
On Monday, the flood levels had risen steadily, with Mr Lowe fearful of another significant flood event.
He is now hopeful that the WGCMA will attempt another artificial opening shortly.