A number of Baringhup residents are concerned about the possibility of Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) closing the embankment at Cairn Curran Reservoir and the surrounding picnic and swimming areas.
Local resident, Kerrie Jennings told the Tarrangower Times, “It would be good to achieve some clarification from GMW on their current proposal and reasoning. Also, are GMW truly open to local community input, and should we lose a much-loved part of Cairn Curran, is there an alternative visitor plan within an acceptable timeframe?”
Scott Wikman, acting manager of Goulburn-Murray Water Storage Services, told the Times, “GMW Storage Services is currently running a series of community consultations with Cairn Curran users and members of the Baringhup community to plan the future of the embankment and adjacent recreation area.”
Baringhup resident, Steve Patterson, was told by GMW representatives at Wednesday’s community consultation, that almost all the planned measures are negotiable, except the closure of the embankment.
Steve raised two points made by GMW. First, they have a duty to keep both their workers and the public safe by prohibiting the public from entering operational areas at the dam. Second, members of the public must be prohibited from being on the embankment at any time so they do not obstruct GMW workers responding to an unexpected emergency, such as flood.
“GMW’s definition of ‘operational areas’ is so broad as to make this justification completely implausible,” said Steve.
“GMW say people are ‘confused’ and that the picnic area is not going to be ‘closed’. That is completely misleading. The road to the picnic area is going to be closed to cars and pedestrians from the Customer Service Office on, so the community needs to drive further up towards Woolshed Bay and then clamber back over rocks etcetera to reach the area. That makes it effectively closed.”
Local resident Tony Farnsworth wrote to the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DWELP) regarding the closure. On 29 November 2021, he received the following from Minister of Water Lisa Neville:
“Cairn Curran Reservoir is a gated storage that in normal operations releases water from a valve for the purpose of supplying irrigation, stock, and domestic and environmental water to entitlement holders. Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) has advised that daily surveillance of the embankment, tower and gate is carried out, with vehicles and equipment operating in the area. GMW safety procedures require the separation of vehicles and pedestrian traffic.
During flood events, the spillway gates become operational to pass larger flows and manage the levels in the reservoir. Currently, there is no exclusion zone in force around the spillway and embankment wall – both within the water and on land, and during the summer months, visitors to the reservoir often swim near the spillway embankment impacting the safe operation of the gates should they be required, and climb onto the structures, which is a public safety and asset security risk.
The embankment is currently closed and has been closed to the public for most of 2020 and 2021, while maintenance works were undertaken on the spillway gates and Cairn Curran tower access bridge. To ensure the ongoing safe operation and maintenance of the embankment, spillway and tower, following the completion of the maintenance works, the public exclusion zone on the embankment immediately adjacent to the spillway will remain closed to the public, and a permanent fence will be installed. Moving forward, access to the area will be for operational purposes only.
Visitors will continue to be able to access the reservoir from the recreation area to the south via Woolshed Bay. GMW will be investing in new public access and amenities around the reservoir as a result of this area of embankment being closed to the public.
GMW is working with local residents and the community to minimise any impacts of this change to public access. Following information being distributed to residents and the online survey conducted in October 2021, GMW has agreed to facilitate a number of small public meetings in COVID safe settings to discuss the proposed embankment closure and walk through the proposed changes on site to assist in explaining GMW’s position.”
Mr Farnsworth believes that it would be a shame to lose access to the area and believes the closure will affect trade in Maldon and Castlemaine due to the number of visitors travelling through those areas to get to Cairn Curran.
“I also feel that this is not a safety measure, but more of a cost-cutting exercise, so the staff don’t have to patrol the area and shut the gates at 4pm,” said Tony. “It is more of a danger however because the public will still be there, they will just take a longer path to an area that will not be patrolled instead.”
Scott Wikman, Acting Manager of GMW Storage Services told the Times, “In October 2021, we conducted an online survey to help us better understand the impact a potential closure of the embankment could have on people.”
The online survey conducted by GMW received 139 responses; 66 percent of respondents were local residents, 30 percent visitors and three percent stakeholders.
93 percent of respondents said they would be directly impacted by the embankments closure, with seven per cent saying they would not be directly impacted.
The main concerns about the embankment closure as outlined on GMW’s website are: respondents no longer being able to enjoy recreational activities including picnics, swimming and fishing at the embankment. There are also concerns that it could lead to people relocating to unsafe recreation areas or taking unsafe routes to other recreation areas which might lead to other recreation areas at the reserve becoming overcrowded. There was also concern regarding the effect on tourism and, consequently, the local economy.
A number of local residents are protesting the closure, with banners reading, ‘Tell GMW to keep the dam gate open. It’s our dam too!’
The Facebook page ‘Keep the DAM gate OPEN @ Cairn Curran!’ was created at the end of 2021, with a following of more than 220 members and local community members are hoping to form a committee to assist in liaising with GMW.
This article appeared in the Tarrangower Times, 14 January 2022.