WARRACKNABEAL man Danny Johnson is proposing to Wimmera water authorities to make Lake Whitton a recreational water reserve.
Mr Johnson has been playing with the idea for nearly 30 years to convert the lake into a place for recreational uses.
Mr Johnson's proposal
The proposal is to make the east side of the lake purpose built for recreation like water sports and the west side opened up to passive recreation like birdwatching in the wetlands.
He plans to start a lake committee in 2020 which is set to make a business case in order to gain traction for the project.
Mr Johnson believes having more community “green spaces” like a lake and wildlife wetlands will not only improve tourism in Warracknabeal but also strengthen community ties.
“For a small community that doesn’t want to die, we must be proactive in doing things. It would be a great thing for people to visit and make it a greater place to live because there would be a green space, we’ve got very little green space.”
“When it’s full, everything is green, the bird life it attracts, like swans and pelicans - and every kind of water bird.
“Wildlife has got to live, having that out there would be brilliant.”
His proposal is to also build amenities, with the potential to open a caravan park to cater for higher levels of tourism in the Wimmera.
“We all talk about free caravan sites. Obviously the council don’t want to give free caravan parks. They don’t want them along the creek, and because of insurance purposes you can’t have them at the showgrounds," he said.
“At the south west side of Whitton there could be a great area there for free campers.”
Mr Johnson also believes redirecting the ski traffic to Lake Whitton could reduce erosion occurring in Yarriambiack Creek.
“Having lived here all my life, the creek is our greatest asset, if we continue to ski in the creek, we wouldn’t want to see that stop. But over the years the erosion caused by skiing at the creek could do damage to the big red gum trees, they’ve done a great job down there to protect them. But if we can get off the creek and get to Lake Whitton - My idea is the east side for recreation and the west side for passive recreation and it looks like now after speaking with them (GWMWater) we haven’t got much option for doing anything out there.”
He said building up the wetlands on the Westside of Lake Whitton could be a positive start to redeveloping the area.
“If we go to the west side, which only holds about a quarter of the water as the east side because it’s much more shallow and it’s not as big in capacity, we could start there and build and develop bird walks, create a wetland. It would be fantastic to have a wetland again near Warracknabeal,” he said.
Mr Johnson sent a letter to Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water (GWMWater) back in May, outlining the structure of his proposal.
Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water's response
In response Acting Manager and Director of GWMWater Mark Williams responded saying the project is not viable due to environmental and economic reasons.
GWMWater told Mr Johnson the Yarriambiack creek was a perfectly suitable water source.
They also outlined storage size and efficiency considerations, the availability of water resources, cost of water, management of the lake and made an ecological assessment to be further considered by Wimmera Catchment Management Authority (CMA).
Mr Williams said heavy reconstruction is needed to prevent water losses in the lake.
“High Losses occurred when this storage was operated and it was regarded as one of the most inefficient storages in the Wimmera Mallee by GWMWater operations staff,” Mr Williams said.
“The Whitton eastern storage is a large site with an approximate full supply volume of 987 ML with a maximum depth of approximately 4.3 metres.”
GWMWater told Mr Johnson the total amount of water entitlement through the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline is 3090ML which needs to supply water to 10 lakes and weirs across the region.
This means Lake Whitton, if provided it’s total supply of water, would require 31.7 percent of GWMWater’s total water allocations.
Their allocation assessment found “the addition of an additional large site, such as Whitton would significantly decrease the reliability of supply to these existing pipeline supplied recreation lakes and weirs”.
GWMWater said they are holding off any future land considerations for Whitton until their business case for the Renewable Energy Strategy is completed, with an anticipated completion date of December 2020.
Wimmera Catchment Management Authority's considerations
Wimmera CMA Statutory and Strategic Manager Tony Baker said at this stage there are grounds to start an ecological assessment of the site.
“We might be able to look at one point of some form of ecological study, just to see what values are there. - With the project proposal we want to put forward it’s about understanding what the logistics are first and if it stacks up, then arguing for infrastructure to deliver the outcome,” Mr Baker said.
He said there is the potential to make consideration to manage a wetlands with current water allocations.
“Within the environmental entitlement there’s room for watering wetlands out of the pipeline, its a very big site, however there might be parts within that site we can water for environmental outcomes.”
He said they would consider this in many stages.
“In a stage approach, we would hire a suitably qualified consultant - look at all the research on the lake that’s been collected in the past and they might be able to do some on site surveys, that might be looking at the vegetation and flora and fauna on the site.”
“They will then look at the watering regimes that would best benefit that environment, based on literature and previous science.
“Different ecosystems can benefit from different watering regimes. They have that wetting and drying cycles a natural wetlands has.
“One of the possibilities is returning it to what it once was, which then becomes a drainage project to return it to what it once was, which could be a great opportunity.”
Mr Baker said before any of this is considered there needs to be a solid business case put to understand what support the project could be eligible for from government.
“Business cases need to be put forward for these types of projects. The government wants to see a return on their investment so it’s either an economic discussion in terms of how many dollars does the government get back for its investment, whether its income generated or whether it’s an environmental outcome, which is providing social good or fixing up previously bad environmental outcomes,” he said.
“We’ve got to go through a process to understand the values and the pros and cons of putting water into a site like that.”
He said Mr Johnson suggestions is something they will be considering in their next round of funding proposals.
“That’s something we’d do in the next few years as part of a budget bid to state government, at the moment we’re in a cycle of funding that ends at the end of this financial year,” he said.
“At the moment we’re in the process of developing new funding proposals that will last us for another four years. It would be a project we would build through that process, so it’s something we were keen to think about.
“Recreational water is obviously very important to the region, the challenge is that there’s only so much water in the recreational entitlement to go around and that would be challenging.
The costs to fill lake Whitton according to GWMWater would be approximately $2500/ ML, with an annual capacity charge of $881.50/ML and annual usage charges of $1064/ML.
Mr Baker said Wimmera CMA would look at maximising the use of any water that is allocated to Lake Whitton.
“If water availability is a limitation, we’d be looking at how we could do that in a really efficient way to get maximum gain for the environment.
“If there were recreational benefits, I could see with a small amount of things like birds and bird watching could be a significant outcome the other things we’d be keen to look at is whether we could water that lake through more natural means, so whether there’s drainage through farm lands or floodwater from the creek, or those types of things we could augment into the creek in wetter times.”