Why wa­ter is our big­gest chal­lenge

There are no wet­lands with­out wa­ter and at na­tional, state and land­scape level, Field & Game Aus­tralia has to rep­re­sent hunters in an in­creas­ingly com­plex en­vi­ron­ment.

Field and Game - - THE WATER CHALLENGE -

Usu­ally, the first ques­tion posted when­ever there is an an­nounce­ment about wa­ter for a pop­u­lar wetland is “will it be full for duck open­ing?”

In com­ing months, as mem­bers fan out to scout and con­trib­ute to an­nual wa­ter­fowl sur­veys, the same con­ver­sa­tion will ap­pear re­peat­edly on so­cial me­dia. Looks great now, but will it hold wa­ter for the 2018 Duck Sea­son?

The re­al­ity for so many wet­lands is that they are at the whim of Mother Na­ture and a hot dry sum­mer will leave lit­tle to en­thuse about come Fe­bru­ary or March.

We live on an arid con­ti­nent that has a his­tory of dis­ap­point­ment when it comes to wa­ter. Aus­tralia has 65 Ram­sar wet­lands and more than 900 na­tion­ally im­por­tant wet­lands.

They are im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tally, ab­sorb­ing pol­lu­tants (wet­lands are far more ef­fec­tive at car­bon stor­age than rain forests) and im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity, act­ing as a buf­fer in times of flood and sup­port­ing a diver­sity of life that in many cases is found nowhere else.

With wa­ter such a pre­cious com­mod­ity, we have in­vested heav­ily since white set­tle­ment in damming, stor­ing or di­vert­ing it to sup­port pop­u­la­tions, agri­cul­ture and in­dus­try. Wet­lands re­main a valu­able so­cial and recre­ational re­source, al­low­ing Aus­tralians to spend time in the nat­u­ral land­scape.

Wa­ter, even if it was avail­able, can no longer flow through the nat­u­ral land­scape.

In Vic­to­ria, en­vi­ron­men­tal wa­ter has been around since the 1990s but by far the big­gest shake up of wa­ter oc­curred with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Mur­ray-dar­ling Basin Plan to re­bal­ance wa­ter use across the state by re­cov­er­ing 2750 gi­gal­itres for the en­vi­ron­ment.

As of July 31, 2109 gi­gal­itres has been re­cov­ered through wa­ter buy­backs, in­fra­struc­ture projects and gifted wa­ter.

Com­mon­wealth En­vi­ron­men­tal Wa­ter Holder David Papps spoke of an adap­tive man­age­ment ap­proach to wa­ter across the Basin in an ad­dress to the Aus­tralian Bu­reau of Agri­cul­tural and Re­source Eco­nomics and Sci­ences (ABARES) in 2016. He said the en­vi­ron­men­tal wa­ter­ing pro­gram was un­matched in the world for scale and am­bi­tion but that it ex­isted in a real-world frame­work that in­cluded a large and pros­per­ous ir­ri­gated

agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity. “So our am­bi­tion is to work within that frame­work,” he said. “There is no in­tent on our part to wind back the clock. We’re work­ing in a highly mod­i­fied sys­tem.”

That frame­work is a lit­tle clearer with the an­nounce­ment of a 605 gi­gal­itre off­set tar­get for en­vi­ron­men­tal wa­ter de­liv­ery.

The Basin states have been ar­gu­ing that rather than claw­ing more wa­ter back from ir­ri­ga­tors, es­pe­cially through buy­backs, the gap could be closed by in­vest­ing in in­fra­struc­ture to de­liver en­vi­ron­men­tal wa­ter more ef­fi­ciently.

The Mur­ray-dar­ling Basin Au­thor­ity has put for­ward a draft tar­get of 605 gi­gal­itres with a fi­nal de­ci­sion to be made in De­cem­ber.

These new wa­ter projects (36 were put for­ward by the states) use en­gi­neer­ing works such as reg­u­la­tors, pipes and pumps to de­liver wa­ter to wet­lands and flood­plains and use wa­ter more ef­fi­ciently.

The projects sup­port the health of lo­cal rivers and wet­lands, pro­tect and re­store red gum forests, pro­vide bet­ter breed­ing con­di­tions for wa­ter­birds and im­prove habi­tat for fish, tur­tles and other an­i­mals. “Vic­to­ria does not sup­port fur­ther buy­backs and had pushed for the off­sets to be as high as pos­si­ble, so our com­mu­ni­ties are pro­tected from fur­ther wa­ter buy­backs,” Vic­to­rian Min­is­ter for Wa­ter Lisa Neville said.

The out­come will in­evitably be a more reg­u­lated and com­plex frame­work and FGA will need to con­tinue to be ac­tive at all lev­els as a voice for wet­lands.

Wa­ter and habi­tat are nec­es­sary pri­or­i­ties and it isn’t as sim­ple as wa­ter equals habi­tat equals ducks.

FGA has ar­gued for a sys­tems ap­proach to man­age­ment with the aims of:

• healthy habi­tat

• mo­saic of cover and food sources

• op­ti­mised (tim­ing, de­liv­ery) to en­hance breed­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and veg­e­ta­tion growth

• cre­ation of ‘edge’ and a va­ri­ety of habi­tat (banks, shal­lows, pro­tected ar­eas, deeper ar­eas)

• avoid­ing creat­ing iso­lated oases bordered by man-made bound­aries that cre­ate sanc­tu­ary for preda­tors or make it easy for preda­tors to hunt

• avail­abil­ity of nest­ing struc­tures

• shel­ter for new broods to suc­cess­fully >>

>> hatch and emerge from nests

• ac­tive preda­tor man­age­ment pro­grams to con­trol num­bers

• mon­i­tor­ing — eco­log­i­cal health, im­proved bio­di­ver­sity, breed­ing suc­cess and preda­tor con­trol. We con­trib­uted to an in­de­pen­dent re­view of how ef­fec­tively Vic­to­ria’s Ram­sar wet­lands are man­aged and were pleased when the Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment an­nounced $2 mil­lion over three years to be spent on bet­ter pro­tect­ing Ram­sar wet­lands, through im­proved mon­i­tor­ing and man­age­ment.

A fur­ther $3.5 mil­lion over three years will be spent on recog­nis­ing the recre­ational val­ues of wa­ter­ways and pro­vid­ing bet­ter in­for­ma­tion to users. This fol­lowed a sub­mis­sion we made on the Wa­ter for Vic­to­ria Dis­cus­sion Pa­per, where we dis­cussed the recog­ni­tion of hunt­ing as recre­ational use, and rec­om­mended more fre­quent and trans­par­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

We are also act­ing at the re­gional level and are close to an­nounc­ing a Me­moran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing with the North Cen­tral Catch­ment Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity recog­nis­ing our com­mon in­ter­ests and as­pi­ra­tions for the proac­tive man­age­ment of State Game Re­serve wet­lands within the north cen­tral re­gion of Vic­to­ria, and to de­scribe how the par­ties will work to­gether to achieve these as­pi­ra­tions.

This is a part­ner­ship ap­proach to manag­ing State Game Re­serve wet­lands through co-or­di­nated plan­ning and man­age­ment de­signed to max­imise shared ben­e­fits, and pre­serve and op­ti­mise en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes.

Wa­ter has be­come a multi-lay­ered and com­plex is­sue across the Mur­ray­dar­ling Basin but in the pur­suit of healthy wet­lands and habi­tat, we have to re­main en­gaged and ever present.

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