Friday, October 31, 2014



The public announcement by the Minister for Water Mia Davies about the state government's response to the independent expert's report on management of the Geographe Bay catchment was a great disappointment.

Her presentation on October 31 to a large crowd of local people vitally interested in preventing further fish deaths contained three main initiatives. These were:

* $200,000 to be given to the Geographe Catchment Council to assist the government in community consultation
* the establishment of a ministerial taskforce to "oversee a long-term strategy to improve water quality and the ecosystem" and
* $4.8 million dollars to connect 126 properties in Quindalup to deep sewerage.

All three initiatives are disappointing for a number of reasons.

The one-off allocation of $200,000 to GeoCatch is not to allow any on-ground works to be implemented, but only to consult and communicate with the local community.

The taskforce will, for the most part, be reinventing the wheel, since the management actions needed to improve water quality have been outlined in documents and reports prepared by GeoCatch over the last 10 years.

The money for deep sewerage connections in Quindalup is equal to $38,000 per property with only minor improvements in water quality to be gained by Toby's Inlet and Geographe Bay.

I was a former member of the GeoCatch board and the former member for Vasse from 1996 to 2005. I'm highly critical of all three initiatives because they lack substance and any long-term commitment to improving water quality in the Vasse Wonnerup wetland system.

GeoCatch has been given a one year allocation of funds with which it has to tell the community what a great job the government is doing. Not one cent of this money is to be spent on water quality improvement, even though GeoCatch was set up in 1997 to be the coordinating body for on-ground improvements.

The ministerial taskforce appears to be an exercise in delaying for a year - until much closer to the next state election - any commitment of funds to allow catchment management actions to be implemented.

The $4.8 million for sewerage connections is more about providing the Water Corporation with a new source of income via wastewater treatment from the 'lucky' 126 properties. As well, deep sewer connections will allow more of these properties to be rezoned for tourist accommodation or higher urban density, so the City of Busselton will be a financial beneficiary of this initiative through an increased rate base.

$4.8 million equals $38,000 being spent per property on deep sewerage, when instead the government could have installed $17,000 Aerobic Treatment Units (ATUs) at each property and given the unspent $2.6 million to GeoCatch or the City to improve water quality in the Vasse Wonnerup wetland area.

Professor Barry Hart, formerly from Monash University in Victoria, was the independent expert called in by the state government in 2013 to provide a review of management needs in the Geographe Catchment.

His report contains 14 recommendations, the first of which - for the state government to establish a single catchment management authority to manage all wetland assets - has been rejected by the state government.

Recommendation 13 - that the government provide $30 million of funding over 10 years for management - has resulted in just $200,000 being committed, less than 1% of the recommended amount.

Dr Hart's review report was welcomed by the local community as it gave them reasonable grounds for hoping that the state government would do something meaningful to better manage water quality in the Vasse Wonnerup wetland system.

Instead, we have had scraps of money offered to GeoCatch, a one year delay before the taskforce reports and money being spent on deep sewerage, a relatively lowly ranked management action.

My relevant background to water quality issues in the Geographe catchment include:
Former president, Geographe Bay Advisory Committee
Former member, Vasse Wonnerup Land Conservation District Committee
Former member, Geographe Catchment Council
Councillor, Busselton Shire Council, 2009-2010
Member for Vasse 1996-2005, including shadow minister for the environment 2001-2004

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