Coota’s big wet

Coota’s big wet

Though the weather may have been perfect for boating in Mallacoota earlier this week, those in the boat hire business were throwing their hands up in despair as the town, and their precious jetties, was contending with flood waters from days of rain and a lake that they desperately need to see open to the ocean.

When the rains started to fall late last week, rains that the land is in dire need of receiving, the level of the feeder rivers and lakes started to rise, and they were continuing to do so earlier this week as the rivers continued to bring in the rainwater.

Peter York, who operates Buckland’s Jetty Boat Hire, north of the main town near near The Narrows, said he is continuing to endeavour to get answers from any of the “six or eight departments who have their finger in the pie” and are involved in making the decision as to when the lake system will be opened to the sea and allowed to drain away.

“We were ankle deep in water on our jetty yesterday (Sunday), and we were able to get a boat out, but unless you want to get your feet wet you just can’t get out,” Peter said.

“The jetties down further at the town were under before ours, and they’ve been able to put a path over their jetty so people can get to their boats, but we’ve got water flowing past us so we can’t attach anything to our jetty.

“I’m currently looking after three jetties, and I’ve already been doing running repairs on them all since Friday.

“Basically if we can’t get people to our boats, without them getting wet feet, we’ll be out of business. We can’t afford thousands of dollars worth of alterations to our jetty, especially when we could find they open the lake in a week or so. We just don’t know, and I’ll continue to make calls to find out more.

“And of course, we couldn’t do anything major without a permit anyway, and who knows how long that would take.”

Peter said the water level on Monday was at around 700-800mm but understood that it would need to reach 1.5 or 1.7m before a reopening was activated.

“Half the roads would be blocked by then and all the jetties would be under,” he said.

“We can’t wait for that. This is a prime time for the town, between now and Easter, with three-quarters of the camp parks currently full, and we need this time to get us through the quiet winter months.

“Last time the powers that be opened the lake they did it in the wrong spot, the cheapest spot, and it only stayed open for a couple of months. A couple of local lads who felt they knew better headed out with shovels and with local knowledge opened it up and it lasted five or six years. Maybe that should happen again.”

Closer to town, David Ralph, at Mallacoota Hire Boats, said the situation was getting dangerous.

“Our jetty here is okay at the moment, but others have got boards coming up and washing away out into the lake,” he said.

“I don’t know how many are floating around out there, but they’re dangerous with all the boats moving quickly around the waterway.

“The jetties are dangerous too, because with water over them you can’t see where holes are or where the boards have washed away.

“We’ve got thousands of people staying here and it’s difficult to get out on the water. And then when they’re out there, other jetties they may want to use are damaged. It really puts a spanner in the works.

“It seems there are so many departments involved in the opening of the lake, but no one local. The powers that be need to come here and look and listen to the locals.”

While a number of people lay some of the blame with the East Gippsland Shire Council, the local council has no control over when the lake is opened.

It is the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (EGCMA) who is regularly monitoring the estuary levels as part of its waterway management role.

A spokesperson for EGCMA said last week Mallacoota received about 60mm of rain, which increased the estuary water level to 0.92m on the gauge located on the public jetty by the boat ramp.

“For a successful opening to be considered the water level needs to be more than 1.5m on the gauge. An artificial opening below this level is unlikely to last for more than a few days before closing again,” the spokesperson said.

“When the estuary is closed for extended periods, areas such as the town boat ramp, the foreshore walking path, car parks, moorings and some private property is affected.

“Ideally, a good rain event will open the entrance naturally, however, there have been times in the past when the estuary has been opened artificially. A decision to artificially open the estuary is made by the EGCMA, with the works being undertaken by Parks Victoria.”

An artificial opening is not being planned at present. In planning an artificial opening, the main physical factors considered are the level of the water in the estuary, the predicted tide levels at sea, the forecast weather conditions and the distance of the sand bench between the beach and the lake.

The main environmental factor considered is the oxygen levels in the estuary at the time of the proposed opening to avoid a fish kill.

A fish kill can occur if the oxygenated water drains from the top water layers and forces fish into the lower oxygen depleted water. This data is collected regularly in the lead up to an opening to help inform decision making.

Further information about estuary  conditions and the timing of an artificial opening can be found on the East Gippsland CMA web site.

PICTURED: Peter Jeffs, of Sale, threw a line in the water at the Mallacoota Foreshore Caravan Park, while standing on the underwater jetty. Walking along the jetties has become more hazardous as the rising waters obscure possible loose or missing boards.