Proposed Tasmanian Irrigation Schemes and anglers

South Esk River trout

South Esk River trout

If you’re a Tasmanian trout angler, you would have heard of the proposed irrigation scheme developments that have the very real potential to impact on our $60M recreational fishing industry. The schemes are numerous and varied, and being pushed by the State Government with reasoning’s ranging from ‘drought-proofing Tasmania’ (most developed countries have learnt at one time or another that you can’t drought-proof anywhere with man-made schemes, the Murray/Darling is proof of this) through to increasing farm-gate output and water-surety for irrigators. It appears that the money for the planning of these schemes is being sourced from us, the taxpayer’s, and subscribers to the schemes will be able to fund their purchases through low-interest government loans.

 As outlined, the schemes and details are numerous. The problem is that very little actual information is available in regards to the proposed projects being considered by the Tasmanian Irrigation Development Board, despite being promised almost a year ago by the State Government that the process would be open and transparent. There was a website with all the relevant information on it here, but this was pulled months ago, and has yet to be replaced with anything at all! You can of course ring the Tasmanian Irrigation Development Board and speak to a staff-member about the projects, but let’s face it, how can you ask a question if you don’t know the subject?

 The two major schemes that are of current greatest concern are two separate schemes that propose to rely on Arthurs Lake and the South Esk River for the harvesting of irrigation water. At this early point it is important to point out that Hydro-Tasmania are the water managers for these resources, and they are the people that need to hear our concerns, as well as the State Government and the Tasmanian Irrigation Development Board.

 As a brief background, Arthurs Lake is Tasmania’s most popular trout fishery, playing host to in excess of 10,000 anglers per year—or just under half of the total licenced anglers in Tasmania. It is the cornerstone of Tasmania’s sustainable recreational fishing industry, and last year, in a large-part due to two dry years coupled with two years of water-drawdowns to supply downstream irrigators on the Lake River with unlimited water-rights, Arthurs’ saw low-water and turbidity at levels which had only been seen a handful of times in the lake’s history.

 The South Esk by contrast, is for the most part a wild river. It is Tasmania’s longest river, running from the east coast to the north coast (over 200 kilometres), only to be impeded by a hydro-dam at its mouth (Trevallyn Dam). In my opinion, as someone who has worked commercially (guiding, and prior to that fish farming) on Tasmania’s northern midlands rivers for ten years, it is our best fly fishing river, and one of our most under-utilised.  It ranks as the 3rd most fished (visitation) river in Tasmania, at about 2300 visitors a year, but when considering its size, it could likely host two or three times the amount of angler pressure – perhaps up to 6000 (and what about the economic benefit’s that would come from that?). Willow (Salix fragilis, a listed weed of national significance) infestations on large-tracts of river, along with a lack of access infrastructure to the river are currently the stopping-blocks to more users being able to access and use the resource.

 With this brief background of the two fisheries in mind, one being the most popular fishery in Tasmania, and the other being the third most popular river fishery in Tasmania, you can begin to see why anglers are worried about any schemes that rely on taking water from the fisheries in times where the predictable water yields of these catchment’s is becoming inconsistent and variable, and tending towards that of being drier in the long-term.

 Stepping-in-to-bat for recreational anglers has been Anglers Alliance Tasmania (AAT), who are regarded as the peak body for recreational anglers. They have been vocal in their disapproval of the proposed schemes, but news of any progress from their lobbying has been hard to find; that’s not to say that they haven’t made any progress, but a quick view of their website doesn’t show any concrete outcomes yet. Let’s hope that lots of work behind the scenes is paying off, nonetheless. Update 8/7/09 *I have just received a correspondance from AAT reassuring me that they continue to be very active in representing anglers on this issue, and will make further public announcements on the results of their representations when suitable*.

 Ultimately, without using this blog as a platform for a thesis on the schemes at hand, I am certain that the general message from anglers needs to be less emotional, more coherent, and clearer in its statements than those I have seen over the past six months. I’ve seen petitions against the schemes left in tackle stores where they were signed by many, but never collected by the organizers of the petitions, and I’ve seen four-page lists of grounds-for-objections against the proposed schemes, many of which consisted of immeasurable and vague goals or demands. In my opinion, and the point of my writing, is that our goals need to be clear and concise. Three clear and concise goals that we should be negotiating for are simply:


  • 1. No new on-stream dams in the catchments’ of any top-twelve river fisheries (measured as visitation through the IFS Angler Postal Surveys, and include the Derwent, Brumbys, South Esk, North Esk, St Patricks, Tyenna, Huon, Mersey, Meander and Macquarie rivers)
  • 2. Negotiated and legislated minimum independent* drawdown levels for all lake fisheries.
  • 3. Environmental flows on all rivers in Tasmania.

*levels that are independent to the specific lake, and independent of surrounding lake levels in the catchments


 With the above clear goals, I believe that anglers can protect their fisheries, and the environments surrounding them. These goals leave a lot of latitude for irrigation development to take place, such as a scheme on the South Esk catchment that would be reliant on off-stream storages harvested from surplus winter flows.

 In closing, I should point out that I have talked to the Tasmanian Irrigation Development Board about the South Esk proposal, and they were quite informative and helpful. They are not the angler’s enemy, they are merely the contractors (some of whom are fly fishers) who have been given a specific (if not bias) brief by the State Government. The Minister and the water managers (such as the Hydro) are the people that need to hear your thoughts as stakeholders and water-users. Consider the project proposals in full when they do see the light of day. Many of these schemes are beneficially looking at taking away the potential for less-regulated private schemes (schemes between the water managers such as the Hydro and private land-owners) to proliferate, and for un-capped water-rights to be a thing of the past. These are some of the benefits that could come from the schemes, but you have to ask at what cost?

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