Diesel irrigation pumps started pumping into the Guttrum Forest last week.
The flows are authorised by the Victorian Environmental Water Holder in line with its Seasonal Watering Plan 2020-21.
North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) believes that Reed Bed Swamp in the Guttrum State Forest has deteriorated over the past century on the back of a changing climate, river regulation reducing the frequency and duration of flood flows and impacts from historic land management practices.
Australia’s most endangered bird, the Australasian bittern, is now part of the public relations push for watering the reed bed. There is only one official documented sighting of the bittern in the swamp from December 1960, and anecdotal reports up until the 70s.
Ironically, the most significant local habitat for the migratory Australasian bittern for the last 60 years was Australian rice paddies. Thousands of hectares of feeding and breeding grounds have now been removed through government policy.
NCCMA Program Delivery Executive Manager, Rachel Murphy, said, “By delivering water in winter it will help prime the wetland vegetation ahead of a planned spring top-up, which will support bird breeding and feeding.”
“We have been working with Working for Victoria teams and Traditional Owners to establish and protect more than 10,000 plants in the swamp, including reeds and rushes, as well as culturally important food and medicine plants.
“We trialled slashing three hectares of red gum saplings in 2019 followed by inundating them with water to drown them, which acts as a double hit that stops them being able to coppice and regenerate.
“We had about a 95 per cent success rate with this method and plan to do the same thing again this time around,” Ms Murphy said.
Community members hold mixed feelings over the project after the lack of meaningful engagement and perception among many that the ‘authority’ is just doing what they want to do.
Guttrum neighbouring farmer, Steve Thomas, said, “We were told by Tim Shanahan that if it looked like flooding, they wouldn’t put any water in there.
“Now we see filling catchments, high rivers and a forecast for a wet spring and the pumps are on.
“We just get the feeling they sit back, and they can do whatever they like. If you ask a question they don’t like, they just move on.
“They then won’t answer your calls. The next thing is news articles that state everyone is happy, when we are not!”
Skeeta Verhey also borders the Guttrum. “They are planting in Reed Bed, and now they are industrialising with cages and ‘roo protection, that’s not natural at all.
“We have seen what happened in the Gunbower, control cages strewn through the forest, blowing around.
“We still have huge questions over the reporting and the objectives of the projects.
“We need transparency and honesty. Geoff Wakeman’s presentation to Gannawarra Shire highlights the huge problems with how these projects are reported on and their objectives.
“As farmers, the proof has to be in the pudding. If things don’t work, we go broke, what skin do they have in the game?”
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 12 August 2021.