St Paul’s River drying up as East Coast drought continues


Sheep are the main source of income for Claudia, Lester and Trent Freeman, but since the river that runs by their property has virtually dried up the sheep have nothing to drink.

The drought at the Fingal Valley property, between Avoca and Royal George, has also left the sheep with little on which to graze.

“We’ll have to turn around and shoot them soon, there’s just nothing for them to eat,” Lester Freeman said.

The past three years have been the driest three-year period on record for the East Coast.

At St Paul’s River, 2019 had the lowest water discharge on record.

The water is unsafe to drink, but residents usually use it for washing, gardening, and for their stock. Now, they are looking for places to cart water back to their properties, at considerable expense.

They believe the use of irrigation at St Paul’s River during drought should be reconsidered.

Resident Geoff Bender said he had contacted the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment, but that they had not been out to see him.

“How about come down, have a look, have a talk,” he said. “I’m a bit disappointed about that.

“Come and talk to us – not just the irrigators – and lay your cards on the table. Come and have a yak. We just haven’t had that.”

DPIPWE said irrigation had not been allowed at St Paul’s River since October 9.

A spokesperson said they had undertaken compliance checks and determined that irrigators in the area were using their own dams: “The department is not aware of any illegal take on the river,” they said.

“Some irrigators move stored water from dams through watercourses to another part of their farm … with conditions attached.”

Lyons MHR Brian Mitchell said the cease to take restriction could have been put in place earlier.

“I don’t think people are used to seeing things like rivers drying up or droughts of this nature in Tasmania,” he said. “But climate change is here, it’s the new normal, and we need to start planning for the new realities.”

“The state government needs to take this into consideration in its water management, so that when a drought comes around, rivers and water resources haven’t already been depleted [by irrigation].”

Water Minister Guy Barnett said the government had “a robust framework for responsibly allocating and managing Tasmania’s freshwater resources for stock, domestic, irrigation, environment and other needs”.

“Tasmanian Irrigation has used our state’s water advantage and delivered increased capacity and reliability to farmers through 14 new irrigation schemes, with the fifteenth currently under construction at Scottsdale … and at least another five irrigation schemes progressed with the first due for approval and construction in 2020,” he said.

The Fingal Irrigation Scheme, which includes the properties around St Paul’s River, is due to come online in 2020.

And near-average rainfall is predicted for some parts of the East Coast in January, Bureau of Meteorology Severe Weather Services Manager Tasmania Alex Melitsis said.

“However, there is no indication of any prolonged period of above average rain,” he said.

In the meantime, Mr Bender said something had to be done about the river.

“Who do you see? Who do you talk to? We’ve gone round and round,” he said.


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