SRW urged to increase monitoring on unlicensed dams

January 13, 2023 BY

A farm dam beside the Moorabool River. Photos: PALM

A MOORABOOL River advocacy group estimates up to a third of recent private dams constructed in the river’s catchment have not gone through a proper assessment, further straining what is believed to be most flow-stressed river in Victoria.

People for A Living Moorabool (PALM) member Cameron Steele said a fifth or more of Moorabool inflows are potentially captured by private dams, one of the highest ratios of inflows to private dams in the state.

PALM recently conducted a study of the Moorabool catchment and “preliminary results show an upsurge in private dam development, many on DELWP designated water courses, which appear not to have gone through a SRW (Southern Rural Water) licencing process,” he said.

“This has driven deep uncertainty about the capacity of Southern Rural Water to both monitor and enforce compliance on potentially unauthorised dam construction or enlargement.

PALM released The River Moorabool in 2021, a film outlining why the catchment is in such poor health. Photos: THE RIVER MOORABOOL

“It should not be up to groups like PALM to monitor Victorian catchments for unauthorised dam construction.”

The concerns are raised in PALM’s submission to the Essential Services Commission (ESC), which is presently conducting its five-year review of pricing structures from utility operators such as SRW.

Mr Steele acknowledged that SRW is probably limited in its monitoring capacity due to resources needed for the work, particularly after “a reported assault on a SRW officer in the Moorabool catchment has meant an accompanying investigation officer is now standard practice during farm inspections”.

“The effect has likely been additional capacity restraints on the number of compliance actions able to be performed.

Cameron Steele has been campaigning for the river for over a decade.

“PALM acknowledges Southern Rural Water (SRW) has recognised the issue in the Moorabool Catchment and is currently directing resources toward resolving the status of the large number of dams of concern that we notified it about.”

SRW general manager of service delivery Simon Wilkinson said all the dams it had reviewed to date have met licence and compliance requirements, but “investigations are continuing.”

He said SRW “takes all reports of unlicenced dams seriously”.

“If found, any Water Act 1989 breaches will be escalated in line with compliance and enforcement processes.”

Less than a tenth of Moorabool River inflows make it to its confluence with the Barwon River. Photo: PALM

PALM wants the ESC to seek clarification from SRW on how it will address “what appear to be obvious short falls in past monitoring and compliance capacity”, but Mr Steele said the issue likely extends across the state.

“If this ultimately requires a reappraisal of the proposed pricing structure (for SRW), PALM supports its consideration.”

PALM estimates 10 per cent of inflows into the Moorabool system reach its junction with the Barwon River in Fyansford, and this figure is even less in drier years.

A 2019 state government assessment estimated a Moorabool inflow reduction of 20 per cent over the past 15 years.

“The river is dying… without some major rethinking about how we use water in the region, the river will continue to decline,” Mr Steele said.