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Farmers protest watering project for Gunbower Forest

Gunbower and Cohuna farmers fear another black water event which will end in disaster

REBECCA KERR August 11, 2014 3:41am

Concerned residents Manus Maguire, Jason Lunghusen, Grant Smith, Ken Peace, Barb Free and Judy Brown.


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District farmers fear a black water event following the announcement of a $13.5 million environmental watering project for Gunbower Forest.

Parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Simon Birmingham and Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh were met by about a dozen protesters at the launch of the Hipwell Rd environmental watering works on Friday.

The new infrastructure will flood 4700 hectares of forest to improve the resilience of the native environment in preparation for extended dry periods, with 70 per cent of the water estimated to return to the Murray River.

‘‘As a result of increased river regulation and recent dry years, the forest hasn’t received flows in the frequency and duration that it needs to continue to support its wetlands and river red gums, to provide habitat and food for waterbirds and other key species,’’ Mr Birmingham said.

Dairy farmer Stephen Brown said he was concerned about the amount of water sitting in the Gunbower Forest heating up and a possible black water disaster.

He was disappointed by the low level of community consultation.

‘‘Our biggest fear is there will be another black water event and it will end in disaster,’’ Mr Brown said.

‘‘They can say it’s just a natural event but the forest isn’t in its natural form anymore, there are more trees than there used to be and if we have a flood this year and I sincerely hope we don’t, all that heated water is going to be pushed into our waterways.’’

He found community consultation condescending and felt decisions had already been made and the process was a formality.

Fellow dairy farmer Judy Brown said the project was a waste of water, bought from destitute farmers during the drought and an even bigger waste of money for something unnecessary.

‘‘The forest has been here for millions of years, and it has suffered droughts and floods and just as Charles Darwin’s law says, it’s evolved, it’s developed, it’s not dead,’’ Mrs Brown said.

‘‘It’s beautiful and healthy, after the drought and rain came it’s thrived, and that’s how it’s designed.

‘‘You don’t have to start artificial flooding and wasting water and that’s what they’re doing, it’s just silly.’’

Mr Birmingham and Mr Walsh said every drop would be used wisely to find a good balance between environmental and agricultural use.

‘‘In managing our environmental assets we should be adopting the same type of principles we have to the management of irrigation and productive agriculture and every drop should be used wisely, carefully and efficiently and effectively as possible,’’ Mr Birmingham said.

‘‘Water is a precious resource and a precious commodity and we want to make sure that while we maximise the environmental outcomes we do so as efficiently as possible so that we can maintain as much water availability as possible for productive purposes on farms and for growth of local economies and the sustainment of local communities.’’

Mr Walsh said the Victorian Government had always held environmental outcomes could be achieved in the Murray-Darling Basin through infrastructure works, rather than simply taking water from productive use on farms.

‘‘This project is an example of how that can be done,’’ Mr Walsh said.

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