The NSW Government plans to scrap the independent Snowy Scientific Committee (SSC), the only independent scientific body advising on environmental flows for the Snowy River and other rivers affected by the Snowy Scheme.
The NSW legislative assembly has passed a Bill to abolish the SSC and replace it with an advisory committee (with limited functions) controlled by the Minister for Primary Industries. The Bill will be voted on in the legislative council after parliament resumes on the 6th May 2014.
The SSC was belatedly established in January 2008 and despite a serious lack of funding and support from the NSW Government it produced a series of invaluable public reports on the adequacy of environmental flows to the Snowy River. Its first three year term expired in May 2011 and despite government promises at the time has not been re-established.
In the 2014/15 water year the total annual allocation to the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam will be less than 14% whilst the Snowy above Jindabyne Dam in Kosciusko National Park remains severely degraded.
The Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Amendment (Snowy Advisory Committee) Bill 2013 will replace the six member independent SSC with a Ministerial controlled advisory committee that:
has no requirement for any scientific representatives
will have a chair (& all the members) appointed by the Minister for Primary Industries not the Minister for Environment
will have a greatly reduced role compared to the SSC advising only on the annual release regime of environmental water whereas the SSC was also required to advise on the adequacy of environmental flows, the programs for restoration of the rivers and catchments and provide an annual public state of environment report
removes transparency and accountability from the $425 million taxpayers investment in Snowy River environmental flows
will not have confidence of the Snowy communities or the general public
Last year Snowy Hydro Ltd (SHL) with a net profit of $280 million paid out $460 million in dividends to its three government shareholders. NSW with a 58% share of SHL benefited the most. Without the independent oversight of the SSC there is the potential that taxpayer funded environmental water may be diverted for the financial benefit of SHL and the NSW Government.
The restoration of the Snowy River depends on an adequately funded independent Snowy Scientific Committee.
The Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has undertaken an investigation of the salinity levels and its impacts on the Gippsland Lakes. The EPA report presented in May 2013 clearly states that the deepening of the entrance by Gippsland Ports (GP) was responsible for the increased salinity of the Gippsland Lakes.
The report outlines that “The Gippsland Lakes are characterised by a strong east to west salinity gradient corresponding to the increased influence of ocean waters. Salinity levels are driven by proximity to the entrance and is produced by the salt water input at the entrance”. The report further states “The lakes have been modified, the entrance has been dredged even deeper, and this has had a profound modification. Increased salinity stimulates the release of dissolved nutrients from the lakes‘ system…the high levels of surface water salinity threatens the surrounding freshwater swamps and wetlands.”
The report explains that the eastern lakes are generally salt stratified, meaning a layer of freshwater resides over the high saline deeper water and that this condition is conducive to the release of nutrients from lake sediments which are then available to feed algal blooms.
Freedom of Information documents obtained by GEG demonstrate that the East Gippsland Shire operated as an agent for GP in applying for funding to investigate developing Lakes Entrance as a deep sea port to service the oil and gas rigs. It is also interesting that in their application to the Shire, GP stated that the entrance was 2.5 metres deep. It is currently being maintained at 6 to 7 metres, twice the depth that the previous dredge vessel ‘April Hamer’ could manage.
The lakes have now been invaded by marine species such as shark, stingray, squid and exotic pests such as the European Shore Crab. Sandworm are now dead, fringing vegetation has been killed and bank erosion has followed.
It is now more important than ever that state and federal governments step in and carry out a complete (environmental, economic and social) audit of the lakes’ and that we move towards establishing a dedicated skills based Gippsland Lakes Management Authority instead of the continual spin generated to assure tourists that all is fine with the lakes’ health whilst they rapidly decline and take the tourist industry and the East Gippsland economy down with it.
The NSW Government is proposing to replace the independent Snowy Scientific Committee with an advisory committee subject to the control and direction of the Minister and funded by Snowy Hydro Ltd.
The Snowy Scientific Committee (established by legislation) had provided the only public accountability and transparency on environmental flows. Now the NSW Government wants to do away with it completely.
The Gippsland Lakes are Ramsar listed wetlands of international significance. If you’re developing a strategy, policies or a system to manage and mitigate environmental impacts of such an important ecosystem, it must be in line with world’s best practice, based on a reputable international model of risk management.
The strategy does not outline how environmental impacts were identified, assessed and what mitigation strategies will be implemented according to an order of risk heirachy. There is a list of wish-wash aspirational objectives that do not indicate who is responsible for what and have no completion dates. There is no monitoring, auditing or certification of the process by a third party independent body. This clearly goes against the fundamentals of process integrity and continual improvement.
The strategy is only a rehash of existing documentation dumbed down to devaluate signficant environmental issues. For example, the only place you’ll find the word mercury in the entire document is in the reference page. G Fabris and other scientists back in 1999 identified the rising levels of mercury in bream found in the lakes yet there is no mention of the associated health risks or mitigation programs to tackle mercury washing down from disused mines upstream in the catchment. Furthermore there is no mention of the new dolphin species Tursiops australis (the Burrunan dolphin) or that mercury poisoning killed 9 of them in 2008-2009. There is only one paragraph on dredging of the artificial entrance with no mention of the severe impacts caused by the influx of salt water into the lakes. There is no mention of the european shore crab, an exotic invasive species that has entered the lakes and has decimated native species of sandworm and freshwater bivalves.
This entirely flawed process can only come down to the fact that the committee is stacked with members of the business community such as land developers, tourism operators and the ports manager who have commercial interests and steer away from the complex issues of the lakes and the science behind sound environmental management.
The East Gippsland community is “strategied out” and can justifiably consider that the development of yet another Strategy is but a process to give the illusion of progress and that the issues so obviously requiring urgent attention on the lakes will again not be addressed.
That’s the crux of GEG’s submission to the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee’s draft strategy. Heaps of paperwork and years of no action to fix the problems.
The submission further details the main issues of the Gipplsand Lakes including: salinity, water quality, fisheries management, invasive species, Ramsar convention criteria, algal blooms, funding and human health impacts.
The state government may be happy to use taxpayers’ money to search for a mythical big cat, but apparently it wants to limit information to the public on endangered animals and plants. The Department of Sustainability and Environment is set to purge its website of hundreds of pages of information, potentially including research papers and fact sheets on endangered plant and animal species, weeds and pests and studies of biodiversity and habitat loss. Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/website-erosion-worries-insiders-20120827-24wlt.html#ixzz24qUGBKn4
As far back as 1980 state government scientists (J W Glover, G J Bacher & T S Pearce) identified that (the heavy metal) mercury has been accumulating in the Gippsland Lakes. Mercury sources include mining, discharges from Australian Paper’s Maryvale papermill and the fallout from burning coal in the Latrobe Valley. These scientists recommended that further investigation is required to determine the distribution of mercury throughout the lakes, and whether significant quantities of mercury are still entering the lakes or being discharged from the lakes.
In 1998 Dr Graham of the CSIRO in an audit of the Gippsland Lakes ecology made similar recommendations on the need to further investigate mercury in the lake chain. In 1999 G Fabris et al. identified a 58% increase in mercury in the flesh of Black Bream of the Gippsland Lakes. In 2007 nine dolphins were identified to have died of mercury poisoning. Over the next five years a further six of this newly identified dolphin species died which represents a 30% loss of the lakes dolphin population. Throughout this entire period right through to this day there has been no follow-up investigation.
Following extensive communication with the Department of Health (DoH), Foodsafe, Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) it appears that there is no monitoring of heavy metals in the Gippsland Lakes or the lakes catchment. Read DoH’s response to GEG raising these concerns – DoH letter (25 June 2012). The “literature review” mentioned in the DoH letter is a 2004 DPI in-house investigation into mercury in Lake Wellington. GEG has been refused access to this document but consider it to be historic and not a control that the department would make judgment on regarding such a serious public health issue.
Would you trust these departments? Back in 2005 the DoH conducted fish studies in the Maribyrnong River only after the media revealed high levels of (heavy metal) Arsenic is leaching into Port Philip Bay. The EPA did not undertake tests on fish and the last time it tested for Arsenic was back in 1970’s. Check out: The Age – Arsenic Leaked Into River (22 August 2005). According to a 2001 report by consultant Peter Ramsay the EPA has been concerned about arsenic levels in the Maribyrnong since the 1990s. In 1995 it received a report showing arsenic leaching at about 3000 times the standard. “The EPA should have tested the river and fish downstream”, said Andrea Hinwood, an environmental scientist and arsenic expert at Edith Cowan University. “If those levels are going into the river, as a precautionary approach they should do the testing and provide people with some certainty that it’s OK. Those are very high levels.”
Are these government departments doing their job? Are they safeguarding us from the risks associated with consuming heavy metals? Are they doing anything to monitor and protect the environment? It seems not.
In 2005 Gippsland Ports (the port authority for Gippsland Lakes) undertook an environmental risk assessment of its operations and identified that increasing the depth of the entrance (capital dredging) will have extreme environmental impacts.
Page 34 of the Gippsland Ports Safety and Environmental Management Plan states that capital dredging will produce extreme environmental risks such as the alteration of coastal processes (tidal flows) and the disturbance of sediments that cause destruction of marine life. The plan further outlines that there are no current controls for these environmental impacts and additional controls only include government permits which at the end of the day are simply an administrative control. No elimination or substitution of risk was considered and no engineering controls were identified.
In 2008 the Commonwealth Government gave Gippsland Ports permission to undertake capital dredging. Prior to obtaining the permit Gippsland Ports was required to undertake an environmental assessment of only 3 km around the artificial entrance of the lakes (a total of 28 sq km). This zone is as salty as the sea and no study was undertaken into the impacts for the rest of the lakes which include estuarine and freshwater ecosystems and the Ramsar listed wetlands (a total of 600 sq km). Furthermore the action was not reported to Ramsar under Article 3.2 of the agreement where the Australian Government is required to notify Ramsar of any sites undergoing change. As of six months ago when the last report was lodged, changes to the Gippsland Lakes had not been reported. In fact, the Government’s official documents report that there has been no change since 1992.
The Gippsland Lakes are now faced with increased tidal flow speeds (at the entrance), fringing vegetation dieback, bank erosion, increased salinity, the proliferation of exotic invasive marine species and the demise of native fauna such as sandworms and Black Bream.
Check out the ABC Lateline report (24 April 2012): Authorities have failed to fulfil obligations to protect wetlands in Gippsland in south-east Victoria, despite signing an international agreement to do so. – Salinity threatens world-renown Gippsland Lakes
Have you noticed that the lakes are as salty as the sea? It’s not your imagination, it’s a fact. The lakes have transformed from an estuarine environment to a salt water environment. This is principally due to the dredging of the artificial entrance at Lakes Entrance from a historical depth of 2.5m to 6m in 2008.
The increased depth of the entrance allows more salt water to enter the lakes system which impacts on a range of plants and animals that depend on the freshwater flows from the feeding rivers. This includes fringing vegetation (as seen in the photo) which is steadily dying and causing bank erosion.
The increase in salinity has also created a perfect habitat for invasive salt water exotic species such as the European shore crab. This crab is a veracious predator that destroys ecosystems and impacts on tourism, aquaculture, recreational and commercial fishing.