9 April 2021

Harsher penalties for polluters may flow from investigation into region's waterways

| Michael Weaver
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Rebecca Vassarotti, Dr Sophie Lewis and Shane Rattenbury

From left, Minister for Water Shane Rattenbury, Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti and ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment Dr Sophie Lewis. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Harsher fines and penalties for polluters of the ACT’s lakes and waterways could be introduced as part of a new investigation into the state of lakes and waterways being conducted by the ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, Dr Sophie Lewis.

Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti said fines for polluters was just one of a range of measures that could be introduced as part of the independent investigation that will be the first in almost 10 years.

Other measures could include increased public education around leaves and grass clippings and urban development which create pollutants that wash into catchment areas and contribute to an ongoing problem of blue/green algae blooms, particularly in places such as Lake Tuggeranong where floating wetlands are being trialled.

The investigation will include Lake Burley Griffin, Lake Ginninderra and Lake Tuggeranong, as well as creeks and rivers that flow through the urban area and into the Murrumbidgee River, including urban ponds, wetlands and the Molonglo River.

Tuggeranong floating wetland

The floating wetland in Tuggeranong. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Vassarotti said the current compliance measures could be strengthened but that was a matter for Dr Lewis to consider.

“The issue of compliance is an important one and so we’ll certainly be open to recommendations if there are things we need to consider as part of our compliance regime,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“We know there is a range of things that are impacting our waterways and we’ll be very interested to find out from Dr Lewis what we can do to maintain and improve them.”

Dr Lewis’ report will evaluate and provide recommendations on:

  • the condition of Canberra’s main lakes and waterways
  • the effectiveness of key Government management actions and strategies to protect these waterways
  • the Government’s monitoring, evaluation and reporting processes, and
  • the role the community and stakeholders can play in managing water quality and ecological health.

Dr Lewis said she was pleased to commence an investigation into the state of Canberra’s urban lakes and waterways.

“The last report is nearly 10 years old and now is the time to re-assess how our waterways are being monitored and managed, and to look for areas where we can improve,” Dr Lewis said.

“Our lakes and waterways are much loved by Canberrans and so important for recreation, flood mitigation and biodiversity.

READ ALSO Floating wetland the latest weapon to rid Lake Tuggeranong of algal booms

Dr Lewis said submissions from the public won’t be part of the initial part of her investigation, but she will work with the ACT’s network of catchment groups to inform how each is performing.

“Our lakes and waterways are a really important part of how Canberrans engage with the environment. They are really passionate about their waterways so there will certainly be engagement with the community at some stage,” she said.

Minister for Water Shane Rattenbury said the most recent investigation into the quality of Canberra’s waterways was conducted in 2012, so an updated report was needed. A key recommendation in the ACT State of the Environment Report 2019 also called for a reporting initiative into the state of Canberra’s lakes.

“It is timely to re-assess waterway health, as the information and recommendations will help to identify priority locations for attention as we work to improve water quality and catchment health,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“Our lakes and waterways have high ecological value and are an important part of life in Canberra. We want to know whether our current approach is effectively protecting and restoring Canberra’s lakes and waterways and if there are any gaps or issues that need to be addressed.

The report from Dr Lewisis due in early 2022.

You can find more information about the ACT Government’s Healthy Waterways program on the ACT Environment website.

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consumeradvocatecanberra1:07 pm 11 Apr 21

I recall Minister Corbell years ago addressing the Tuggeranong Community Council and charging that Canberrans were responsible for the growth of blue green algae. I put it to the government that there need to be better measures to prevent leaves and other detrius going into the lake. More regular cleaning of gross pollutant traps is a first start as is monthly street sweeping. That involves spending money on equipment and finding solutions to prevent leaves etc entering the drains. No brainer really! Instead of punishment, how about spending the money to fix the problem.

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