26 November 2022

Could picking up grass clippings after mowing be key to saving Lake Tuggeranong?

| Lottie Twyford
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Lake Tuggerenong

Algal blooms make Lake Tuggeranong unusable throughout the swimming season. Photo: File.

More will be done to try to protect the health of the notoriously unhealthy Lake Tuggeranong, with the ACT Government agreeing to explore improvements to its mowing program.

Specifically, it will investigate how grass clippings and leaf litter left behind after mowing could be collected to stop them from ultimately ending up in lakes and waterways across the Territory.

Scientists who study the lake believe that grass clippings and other organic matter lead to excessive nutrients entering the lake which then contribute to the notorious blue-green algae.

The latter leaves the lake unusable for the majority of the recreational swimming season.

Johnathan davis

ACT Greens crossbencher Johnathan Davis has called for substantial investment to fix Lake Tuggeranong. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

ACT Greens crossbencher Johnathan Davis led the push with a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly this week (Thursday, 24 November).

Mr Davis suggested this could be done by using mowers with catchers, increasing the rate of street sweeping, trialling a dedicated street sweeping and a post-mowing collection program or installing collection nets inside stormwater drains.

He said many residents of Brindabella were concerned about the health of the lake.

“We need to acknowledge the impact our government mowing has on our waterways and then we need to try and mitigate it,” he said.

“I understand that the Government has finite resources and I’m not asking them to do the impossible.”

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Mr Davis acknowledged there was lots of work underway from the Government.

For example, the Government in April poured an additional $1.5 million into a research project intended to look into the impact of leaves and organic matter flowing into the lake.

The Government supported Mr Davis’ motion.

Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel acknowledged Tuggeranong residents wanted a lake which could be used for swimming, kayaking and enjoyed.

“I remember fondly my days there windsurfing on Lake Tuggeranong – something you did in the early 90s – not so much these days,” he said.

Mr Steel said more grass was being mown than ever before due to the third consecutive year of a La Nina weather cycle which was of course complicating the situation this year but it was just one element affecting the health of Lake Tuggeranong.

Water Minister Shane Rattenbury also welcomed the motion, saying more could still be done to improve the health of the lake.

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Despite this investment, last year’s ACT Waterwatch Catchment Health Indicator Project (CHIP) annual report found that Lake Tuggeranong had its lowest water-health rating to date – it earned a D-minus.

This sounded alarm bells for some but University of Canberra researchers, who are studying the lake and its algal blooms, urged calm.

Dr Rod Ubrihien said the issues with water quality at Lake Tuggeranong were complex and longstanding and it was important not to jump to conclusions yet after such a wet year.

He further noted fixing water quality issues at the lake was a big task because it had initially been intended to be an urban catchment.

In a way, Dr Ubrihien told Region in July, the lake was doing its job by catching leaves and organic litter.

“The key purpose of the lake was to intercept those contaminants before they hit the Murrumbidgee, so the lake is doing its job – even though lots of residents don’t want to see it that way,” he said.

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Linda Seaniger9:20 pm 28 Nov 22

Mowing services have definitely diminished and it’s not surprisingly we have so much blue algae in the water ways when so much grass clippings is left behind. It looks extremely untidy. I have travelled extensively in New South Wales in the last few days and even regional towns look better maintained than the nations capital. If we are contracting out mowing services then cancel the contract and employ mowers directly we obviously need more mowing units and that’s why we pay rates so make it happen. .

vyt_vilkaitis5:53 pm 28 Nov 22

I wonder if they just mowed the strips next to the roads a little more often, it would not create such a problem? And maybe it would also make for safer roads as we could see approaching cars at intersections?
I really dont care how often the large expanses of untrodden, undeveloped, areas are mowed.
Just mow next to the roads twice as often and large areas that are not used much less often. Surely that wont cost anything more and reduce grass flowing into waterways!

ChrisinTurner1:21 pm 28 Nov 22

If Canberra adopted weekly street sweeping, like other cities and country towns, instead of three times a year and never on some kerbs, the problem would be solved.

Come on Riotact, your main role is to hold elected officials to account, which includes Greens. They launched their Cleaner Lakes and Waterways program 10 years ago, which has clearly not met expectations. Ask them why they don’t meet their commitments, or ask them why the situation is getting worse.

“grass clippings and leaf litter left behind after mowing………. ultimately ending up in lakes and waterways across the Territory”.

The solution doesn’t appear to be that complex. While Minister Steele has asserted that
the government has increased its mowing, to me it appears that he might be comparing the mowing frequencies to drought years. Metre-high grass is seemingly everywhere and when it does get mowed, the clippings are spewed all over paths and into roadside gutters. More frequent mowing might see a quicker breakdown of the clipping and less of them working their way into our waterways? While MLA Davis has suggested the government use grass catchers, the contractors typically use large slashers, not the smaller ride type that can be fitted with a catcher.

Particularly now that the government has embarked on a program to increase our canopy cover, more leaves are going to end up in our waterways. We used to semi-regularly see street sweepers. What happened to them?

Maybe more grassland mixing and more roadside sweeping is the answer? Why do we need to spend an additional $1.5 million researching the cause of algae blooms in Lake Tuggeranong?

And of course, we don’t need to ask why the government has finite resources, do we? The same reason that everything else is underfunded; Light Rail.

swaggieswaggie10:20 am 28 Nov 22

Lake Tuggers seems to have provided a nice source of income for any number of researchers with their “projects” over the last few years and also affords any clueless Pollie a chance of a cheap headline. The lake is shallow – it needs two things aeration and agitation and the problem will vanish. Simple.

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