Estuary opening still on hold

Estuary opening still on hold

With the Mallacoota estuary yet to open naturally, the town’ s jetties have been inundated with flood waters for months, resulting in damage to both infrastructure and tourism.

The matter was brought to the attention of East Gippsland Shire councillors as urgent business by Cr Marianne Pelz at council’s meeting held in Mallacoota last Tuesday. As a result, mayor, Cr Natalie O’Connell, will write to Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, requesting a review of Catchment Management Authority (CMA) guidelines for the Mallacoota estuary opening that are currently triggering when the water level reaches 1.5 metres.

“There is a big inundation issue on the foreshore of Mallacoota Inlet,” Cr Pelz said.

“The water has risen above the port and the boat jetties so they cannot be used and are being severely damaged and weakened.

“Tourism is being compromised because of the jetties being underwater and people are staying away from the Mallacoota region.

“The water is up and over the road and is no doubt causing severe dam age and washout to our infrastructure.”

East Gippsland CMA said it is “monitoring the water levels in Mallacoota Inlet, which at last reading was 0.86m above AHD and falling slowly”.

In a statement, CMA said: “The Authority considers many factors before deciding whether to authorise Parks Victoria to open the estuary as follows:

“The gradient required for an opening to the sea depends on the level of the estuary, the width of the beach where the opening will occur and the low tide level of the sea at the time of opening. The steeper the grade, the more likely an opening will sustain for a period of time.

“At present the lowest tide periods are the weeks commencing March 18 and April 16, 2019.

“Forecast rainfall is low, so it is unlikely that the lake levels will rise over the next week or so.

“This means we will be waiting another week before considering an opening.

“Oxygen in the estuary at the time of an opening is one important factor when considering an opening. Low oxygen levels in the water have the potential for a fish death if fish are forced into areas of low water oxygen. At this point oxygen levels are good.”

Cr Pelz said she believed the CMA guidelines were “not respectful to community assets and infrastructure and that the current policy is aiding excessive expense to taxpayers and ratepayers”.

She said boat hire businesses have needed to close “for days on end as they are not able to launch their vessels safely leading to loss of income and economic hardship”.

She also said fewer fishermen are venturing out because the water is stagnant due to loss of oxygen in the water.

Cr Pelz’s motion requested that the Minister review the practicality of the current guidelines and to immediately move to manually open the inlet to allow fresh water circulation, ecological stimulus and better health for the Mallacoota Inlet and aiding in economic stimulus to the region.

Mallacoota and District Business and Tourism Association president, John Hilvert, addressed the councillors asking if council will rebate fees for the damaged and unusable jetties.

Director development, Paul Holton, said council manages the private jetty licences on behalf of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and that there are a range of constraints that council has in terms of managing those licences.

Mr Holton advised Mr Hilvert that he would take his question on notice to provide a more informed response so as not to provide any misleading information immediately.

Mr Hilvert also asked, “Due to the damage to infrastructure and business and danger to people currently trying to walk on slippery underwater jetties, will the council encourage all parties to reconsider the 1500mm height level before you open the bar?”

“Again, this is not one of those things in council’s direct control,” Mr Holton said.

“There is a formula that is used by the various people who manage the waterway in determining when the time is right for creating a channel to reopen the entrance.

“The parties involved in that are the CMA, DELWP and Parks Victoria, and council is at best an onlooker to some degree.”

“Many of our businesses and tourist organisations are finding that there is no one to complain to,” Mr Hilvert said.

“Last time we counted there are three ministers, a catchment authority in there somewhere and ports authority.

“We’re waiting for an accident to happen. Just about all the jetties are unusable and slowly eroding.

“We’ve had several people bring their boats in and turn around. We’ve had several cancellations from people who have booked several months ago for their fishing expedition and we’ve just lost them because it’s just too dangerous and there’s no easy way for them to launch their boats.”

Cr Dick Ellis argued that “the management of estuaries and estuarine water has been well managed by the state of Victoria for probably more than 100 years in many ways”.

“In the present time we have received briefings at council based on reports from the experts in the management of this,” he said.

“Knee-jerk reactions to the release of waters doesn’t proactively improve the aquatic environment; it doesn’t move the sands away as rapidly as you’d like and often it’s human interference, uneducated human interference with breaking open of estuaries that causes more ecological damage than it prevents.

“This is not an area of expertise for local government.

“To suggest to partner groups in the area that they’re not competently addressing the issue, is I think, a bit mischievous.”

Cr Colin Toohey said while it is not council’s role to manage waterways, it is council’s role to advocate on behalf of the community.

“We are not actually telling them what we want them to do. What we are asking them to do is review the height and to potentially do something in regards to allowing the opening. I do see that as our role,” Cr Toohey said.

The motion was carried, eight to one, with Cr Ellis against.


EGCMA representatives have met with boat hire business operators and caravan park managers to discuss options.

Buckland’s Jetty Boat Hire’s Peter York said “it’s something they are working on”.

“And having spoken to CMA we are reasonably confident that the estuary will be opened soon,” he said.

With no exact date given, Mr York said they had received advice that the process is dependent on rainfall forecasts and marrying up the work with the tides.

“It needs to be done at the lowest tide possible. The lake is higher than the ocean, and we need to get the greatest fall possible.”

Mr York said “We appreciate the backing the shire councillors have given us following their meeting here in Mallacoota”.

“Even if we have now spoken with CMA it all helps,” he said.

“It will be good to have the formula reassessed. Everyone is now more aware of how much damage can be done.

“We have potentially spent thousands of dollars with the water lapping up and over the jetties and they are dangerously slippery.

“There are also the logs floating against the jetties and are real hazards for boats out in the lake. I have had to drag dozens of logs out, literally tying them on and towing them out.”

With seepage, Mr York said the lake had dropped about 100mm to around 0.8m.
“But that’s still above my jetty,” he said.

Grant Cockburn, at Mallacoota Hireboats, says there is a lot to consider and it should be done properly.

“With respect to all the agencies involved, and there are a few, it is good to say that the CMA has been active in the past three to four weeks working on the problem,” Mr Cockburn said.

“We had a briefing with them a few weeks ago and they have not been sitting on their hands.

“They have been proactive, taking water samples, measuring oxygen levels, because if levels aren’t right and they open it up there is a high risk of a massive fish kill.

“We’re confident now that in the not too distant future we’ll have a resolution. There is a lot that needs to align for the opening to happen. There’s a lot of money involved in this and it needs to be done properly. It’s been rushed in the past with not good results.

“It has been good to get an understanding from the CMA of their world and the things they need to consider, and there are a lot.

“It has been closed since November 2017, a long time for Mallacoota.

“With less rainfall in the catchment area there is every chance there will be more closures in the future. It’s good to have a procedure in place, so when it needs to be done it can be done reasonably quickly.

“I’m not against the process as it is now to be honest.

“It needs to be done right and if it means sloshing around for few more weeks, so be it.