“We won’t know if what is happening has been detrimental until the damage has occurred.”
Gingin Water Group secretary Sue Pedrick’s comment is referring to a complex set of circumstances that have possibly contributed to Beermullah Lake – an important conservation wetland north of Gingin – drying up this year for the first time in living memory.
While the direct cause of the drying of Beermullah Lake is currently unknown, it is undeniably a symptom of continued stress on the Red Gully creek system, which feeds the lake. Reduced and changing patterns of rainfall, plus the extraction of water for agriculture are starting to take their toll on the water system. The drying of Beermullah Lake can be likened to the canary down the coal mine.
Gingin Water Group can’t do much to bring on more rain, but they can educate people about why and how the management of extraction of water from the Red Gully creek system needs a serious overhaul, and quickly.
“We want to inform the community that there is a serious reduction in available water and it is affecting important environmental assets. The problem is not going to go away and extraction of water at the current levels is not sustainable.”
Decisions about the allocation of water from the Red Gully creek system fall to the Shire of Gingin, not to the Department of Water and Environment Regulation (DWER). This is because the area was not proclaimed at the time of writing the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act (1914).
Why was it not proclaimed? Because the regulatory body deemed the streamflow in the area unreliable and unsuitable for commercial activities – basically, they never thought anyone would want to use the water from Red Gully.
Fast forward more than a century and a lot has changed. Water is a scarce resource and what was once deemed unsuitable for commercial activities now suddenly looks quite attractive to producers.
Shire of Gingin is put in a difficult position to make decisions on water allocation applications without the same level of expertise as DWER when assessing similar applications. In proclaimed water systems, calculations have been made on what is a sustainable level of water that can be taken – but you are essentially flying blind in an unproclaimed area.
Sue says, “Unfortunately, we won’t know if what has been happening is detrimental until the damage has occurred.
“It is thought that the drying of Beermullah Lake could be an indication of that.
In lieu of any direct bureaucratic responsibility, landowners of the property which surrounds Beermullah Lake, Philip Barrett-Lennard and Sally Calder, have embraced taking care of the lake. They are concerned for the future of what is not only a picturesque piece of their land, but an important conservation hub, one they willingly share with universities and environmental groups for research.
“We take our guardianship very seriously,” says Sally. “We’ve fenced off the whole lake to protect it from stock and this has allowed native vegetation to regenerate, creating additional habitat for the already plentiful birdlife.
“We’re not obliged to do that on any level, but we are that way inclined so we did.”
Phil says, “Bird watchers counted more than 80 species of birds here in a single day and on another occasion just under 1000 swans were spotted – it’s a magical spot.”
Gingin Water Group have raised the issue with Minister for Water David Kelly MLA suggesting to him two possible options to remediate the situation:
• Proclaim the Red Gully surface water resource and ensure DWER has both the legal and financial resources to achieve that before the surrounding ecosystem is damaged, or
• Finalise the process of reforming the outdated 1914 Water Act ensuring that the result will allow such a Proclamation of the area in question.
“We would like to raise public awareness to the issue in the hope that there will be increased pressure from the public for the new Water Act to be brought in, and water licences to be better managed. We would like to see allocations (particularly large ones) re-assessed, to see they are sustainable before they are renewed, transferred or new ones issued,” explains Sue.
For more information on this issue, you can contact Gingin Water Group via email@example.com, through their Facebook group or website www.ginginwater.org.au. You can contact Minister Kelly’s office directly via email, Minister.Kelly@dpc.wa.gov.au.