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An environmental group wants action to stop the damage being caused by excess forest flooding.
Those who live around Gunbower Forest are concerned about its deteriorating condition since unnatural flooding was introduced.
These concerns have been included in a submission calling on federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley to take notice of scientific evidence before approving environmental works.
Central Murray Environmental Floodplains Group Inc. (CMEFG) comprises landholders and community members who live and work alongside the floodplain forests in the Central Murray region of Victoria. They have lodged a report to Minister Ley highlighting concerns about the Gunbower Forest Restoration Project, one of the projects under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism program.
The group prepared a submission when the project was referred to the Minister by the Lower Murray Urban and Rural Water Corporation in early September triggering a 10-day window for public comment under the EPBC Act Referral Application process.
CMEFG chair Doug Fehring said the group has highlighted concerns about the impacts of current environmental watering plans which have been in place since 2005 and have resulted in inundation of sections of Gunbower Forest. Since the increased flooding events locals have noticed a decline in the forest’s health and the group has used the report to ask Minister Ley to review the current modelling before allowing new projects to go ahead.
“We are alarmed the Murray Darling Basin Authority are using the Lower Gunbower as a case study for future environmental watering projects, as not enough research has gone into the outcomes of this experiment.
"The crux of the problem is the modelled flooding regime which is in place, along with the modelling for this new project which assumes Gunbower Forest is home to permanent wetlands.
“In our submission we have referenced a number of papers which provide overwhelming quantitative-evidence based research that these wetlands have only become permanent since European settlement and the introduction of river regulation,” Mr Fehring said.
The project referral to the Environment Minister states ‘The Gunbower National Park Floodplain Restoration Project aims to restore a more natural inundation regime’.
However, Mr Fehring said to restore natural inundation regimes they would require implementing natural flooding schemes compatible with pre river regulation.
“Sediment samples taken from wetlands across Gunbower Forest concluded the variability in inundation was far more variable than it is today, and it has been the increased regulated flows since European development which has established more lagoon conditions in Gunbower Forest.
“Over the last 15 years the communities of Cohuna, Koondrook and Gunbower have become increasingly concerned about the impact of environmental watering programs dating back to The Living Murray in the Gunbower. The decline in the health and destruction of the red gum forest and the understorey native vegetation in Gunbower Forest is obvious to locals,” he said.
In its submission the organisation raised concerns that past and current planned environmental water regimes have been detrimental to the understorey of the Gunbower Forest through increased sapling populations and no thinning management, rising groundwater and salinity issues. They believe all these have contributed to the decline in the native vegetation understorey health.
Concerns about gaps in monitoring and data collection were also raised, and the group has asked the Minister not to approve the project until a full independent investigation into the negative effects and consequences of planned inundation on Gunbower Forest.
“We want a healthy forest managed in a sustainable way, based on evidence, not desktop modelling. Current managed watering events need to be based on the latest evidence and data, not modelling and assumptions which are clearly incorrect,” Mr Fehring said.
Koondrook Track February 2020 – Photo taken on the Koondrook Track in Gunbower Forest. The left side of the track has been watered under planned environmental watering programs and it void of understorey, the right hand side has not been watered and contains understorey.