The Glenelg River
The Glenelg River is the largest river in south-west Victoria and contains some of the best condition river reaches in the region.
The Glenelg Basin is home to more than 150 threatened to near-threatened species and ecological communities, and falls within one of 15 listed ‘biodiversity hotspots’ in Australia, being one of only two in Victoria.
The river starts and ends in some of the most pristine and beautiful Australian environments, springing from the Grampians National Park, and meeting the Southern Ocean through the Lower Glenelg National Park.
History of the Glenelg River
When explorer Major Thomas Mitchell first arrived at the Glenelg River in south-west Victoria in 1836, he described the land with abundant water and good soils as ‘Australian Felix’- the origin of the term ‘the Lucky Country’. Early surveyors also described the fertility of the area as ‘a pastoral El Dorado’. For thousands of years the Glenelg River was known by the Indigenous Gunditjmara people, as ‘Bochara’. The river remains important to the region’s Indigenous people, particularly because of its diverse and unique native fish assemblage, which includes short-finned eel as well as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation-listed Glenelg River Spiny Crayfish.
When pastoral stations were established in the region, however, the landscape changed quickly and dramatically. Early settlers noted that when the soil was trodden by stock, springs of salt water appeared in many of the watercourses, killing most of the native grasses. Land clearance and rabbit infestation destabilised the naturally erodible soils of the Glenelg River Basin, washing soil and sand into the River and its tributaries of the upper catchment. Major floods in 1946 exacerbated the problem, washing further large amounts of sediment into the waterways.
In the decades following the flood, the Glenelg River Improvement Trust (GRIT) embarked on a campaign to de-snag the Glenelg River in a misguided attempt to reduce flood risk to townships such as Casterton. Science now tells us that such activities have little impact on reducing flood risk, and in many cases can increase flood risk by creating higher velocity flow. Even back in the 1960’s, community members noted the changes occurring in the River as a result of the de-snagging works, including the loss of deep water holes, which were treasured by the community as swimming spots.
The construction of Rocklands Reservoir in the 1950s substantially altered natural flow regimes in the River. This reduced water quality and exacerbated sedimentation issues, reducing structural diversity and connectivity for aquatic species. Further pressure was added to the Glenelg River with the introduction of a number of pest plants and animals to the area, most notably blackberry, pine, bridal creeper and Carp.
The Glenelg River Restoration Project
Early restoration in the Glenelg Basin commenced in the early 1960’s, at the same time the GRIT was removing timber from the Glenelg River. The Soil Conservation Authority (SCA) constructed hundreds of soil erosion control structures in the upper catchments in an effort to slow the rate of erosion. Despite these early restoration works, in the mid-2000’s the Glenelg River was on the brink of ecological collapse, due to low flows, poor water quality, loss of habitat, invasive weeds and carp.
In the early 2000’s, the Glenelg Hopkins CMA, in conjunction with community groups and other agencies, commenced the Glenelg River Restoration Project, an ambitious undertaking that took an integrated and long-term approach to restore health to the Glenelg River. The major challenge of the Project has been the scale and the diffuse nature of the River’s threats, which involve the cumulative impact of thousands of individual landholders over 12,000 km2.
The diverse nature of environmental problems required a multi-pronged response. This has included a variety activities including sand management, fencing and revegetation, estuary management, urban waterway restoration, wood re-instatement, further construction of erosion control structures, the establishment of environmental flow releases, sand extraction, carp monitoring and eradication, weed control, and the removal of fish barriers. The central activity to the Project has been fencing and revegetation, which is a low-cost solution to many of the River’s threats.
Over fourteen years the Project has worked with over 659 individual landholders, community groups and government agencies to help construct 1725 km of fencing, plant more than half a million trees and direct seed 796km of waterway frontage. The restoration program has also completed 2784ha of weed control, re-instated 870 pieces of large wood, opened 977 km of the Glenelg river and its tributaries to fish movement, and established and delivered an environmental flows entitlement.
Click below to view the You Tube video at Nareen Station:
At Nareen Station in south west Victoria, 50km of fencing now protects little streams and creeks thanks to the Dickinsons, with the help of Glenelg Hopkins CMA’s Revitilising the Glenelg River project.
These works amongst many others, have led to significant outcomes and improvements in the Glenelg River system. The project has resulted in several native fish species extending their range by hundreds of kilometres. Other outcomes include a 150% increase in Variegated Pygmy Perch, a 280% increase in Blackfish numbers at sites where wood was reinstated, and significant water quality improvements in response to environmental flows. Deep water holes of up to three metres have re-scoured, and some river reaches have been stabilised through stock exclusion and native vegetation restoration.
2013 Australian Riverprize
The successes of the Glenelg River Restoration Project were recognised in 2013, with a prize in the Inaugural River Basin Society Awards, and as the winner of the Australian Riverprize Award, which was announced at the International Riversymposium in Brisbane.
Glenelg Hopkins CEO Kevin Wood accepted the Australian Riverprize award and the $200,000 prize money, at the 16th International Riversymposium, from Senator Simon Birmingham. Riverprize, presented by the International RiverFoundation, is the world’s most prestigious environmental award, giving recognition, reward and support to those who have developed and implemented outstanding, visionary and sustainable programs in river management.
Senator Birmingham, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, said that:
“farming families in the Glenelg River Basin had worked with conservation groups and industry to carry out what has become the biggest river fencing and protection program in Victoria’s history”.
Mr. Wood said the award was an extraordinary achievement for the Glenelg Hopkins CMA, and the many organisations and people who have worked so hard for more than 10 years to restore the Glenelg River back to health. As he explained:
“In particular, this award is owned by the 628 landholder families along the Glenelg River who have partnered with the CMA and other agencies to care for our iconic waterway. This is a significant acknowledgement of all the work which has been involved in restoring health to a river which was at the point of ecological collapse during the mid-2000s due to low flows, poor water quality, loss of habitat, and weed and carp invasion.
Some courageous decisions have been made in the past decade in restoring health to the river, which were not always supported when they were initiated. The project has pushed the boundaries of conventional river management and original and innovative approaches have been used from planning works to flood fencing to tracking and eliminating carp.”
The Australian Riverprize consists of $150,000 in cash and a $50,000 grant for the winner to establish a twinning project within Australia. The objectives of the twinning activities are to share resources and experience, transfer relevant technologies and tools, rehabilitate degraded catchments, and improve socio-economic standards within the river system.
Funded by the Australian Government’s Water for the Future initiative, through the Water Smart Australia program, the Australian Riverprize’s $200,000 makes it the largest prize for environmental achievement in the country.
Click below to view the You Tube video at ‘Dewrang’, Balmoral:
Josh Sutherland, grazier from “Dewrang”, Balmoral in south west Victoria, fenced creeks and installed dams to improve management of the farm, under the Glenelg Hopkins CMA’s Revitalising the Glenelg River program.
Click below to view the You Tube video at ‘Lyndoch Park’, near Casterton:
You can also find out more by visiting the Glenelg Hopkins CMA website.