Vasse River clogged with manure

Vasse River

Busselton residents living alongside the Vasse River have described the state of the waterway as "dangerous" and "disgusting".

A group of residents spoke at the City of Busselton public access meeting last week to express their concern about the state of the certain area of the Vasse River.

The Busselton Dunsborough Mail, followed up with resident Rob Mildwaters who has lived next to the Vasse River near the Strelly Street bridge for three decades.

To prove a point, he walked out to the middle of the river, struggling the whole time as he waded through cow manure waist deep.

With each step, Mr Mildwaters had to physically lift his leg with his arms to move forward, he then required a stick to support him while he was stuck in dung.

"How good is the Vasse River?" he said.

"A report titled Review of the Lower Vasse River Cleanup Program from 2005 already tells you that a lot of trials have been done and the results.

"This is a review of trials that started in 1999, that was 21 years ago and they wonder why we are upset.

"The report will tell you that the nutrients and phosphorous at the bottom, which is cow crap, needs to be removed.

"The number one recommendation was to remove the sediment and it has not been removed.

"They said when the water comes in any movement of the cow crap just releases nutrients."

GeoCatch chair Felicity Bradshaw said the Lower Vasse River program, which ran from 1999-2005, successfully met many short term objectives, including a large amount of on-ground activity, resulting in direct benefits to the river. However water quality improvements were not achieved as nutrients still flowed from the catchment.

Ms Bradshaw said a whole of catchment approach resulted in the development of the Water Quality Improvement Plan between 2006-09 and then actions from the plan were implemented from 2009 to 2014.

Mr Mildwaters said the most current trials have only been done where the Causeway Road bridge was to make the area look nicer to the public.

"It is alright for them to try and beautify a section of the river they always have done, they have dredged it, all the trials have been done in that area, there is even a fountain there," he said.

Mr Mildwaters said the endangered species Carter's freshwater mussels lived in the in the sand on the riverbed.

"The crap is on top, the mussels are trying to live on the bottom with a metre of crap on them, beautiful" he said.

"You could get an excavator or a bobcat and be scooping this stuff out now which would allow space for actual water to be, what they are saying is crap in the river is better than water, how can that be?

"If we can get rid of the crap and replace it with water it has to be better, I do not care about ground level infiltration, it will still happen if it is already happening."

In 2014, the Vasse Taskforce was established with stakeholders from the state government, GeoCatch, City of Busselton, Department of Water, Busselton Water and the Water Corporation.

The group focussed on five areas including governance, funding, drainage, infill sewerage and research to develop a long-term strategy to improve water quality and the ecosystem.

The taskforce was established in response to an independent review by professor Barry Hart who recommended setting up a governance structure for the management of the Geographe Catchment.

In 2015, $15 million was invested into the Revitalising Geographe Waterways program by the former state government and contributing partners.

The program was extended for one year in 2019 with an additional $1.6 million in funding from the state government to improve water quality, waterway health and better manage the Geographe waterways under the Vasse Taskforce.

Since the program began in 2015, there has been a significant reduction in nutrients (phosphorous and/or nitrogen) in 75 per cent of Geographe waterways.

GeoCatch chair Ms Bradshaw said since 2015 the organisation had continued this work in partnership with other agencies through Revitalising Geographe Waters Program.

She said the program included a range of initiatives aimed at improving water quality, waterway health and management of Geographe waterways.

The Vasse River and Strelly Street bridge in Busselton.

The Vasse River and Strelly Street bridge in Busselton.

City of Busselton director of planning and development services Paul Needham said there was no agency responsible for the river as such, but it depended on what particular issue or aspect of the river was in question.

However, he said over the last five years or so the city agreed to be the interim asset manager through the Revitalising Geographe Waterways Program.

"Through that, the city has prepared and adopted a Lower Vasse River Waterway Management Plan," he said.

"Two of the key recommendations of that plan are the further investigation and potential implementation of the 'Living Streams Scenario' for the Lower Vasse River and the formation of a Management Advisory Group.

Mr Needham said it was intended that representatives from the city, state and community would form the group which would be charged with guiding the city in the implementation of the plan.

"Using State Government funding provided through the RGW Program, the city expects to commission substantial further work on the Living Streams Scenario in coming months," he said.

"The Council will also be asked to endorse the process to form the Management Advisory Group in March."

Mr Needham said it may be appropriate for accumulated sediment to be removed from one or more sections of the river, but it was far from clear that the area near the Strelly Street bridge would be a priority location.

"Because of the volume of sediments in the river, as well as the other sources of nutrients that contribute to algal blooms each summer, removal of sediment from one section would have no discernible impact on the health or amenity of river.

"It would depend to some degree on where, how and to what extent sediment removal was being undertaken, but state and/or federal environmental approvals may be required, as may Native Title and/or Aboriginal Heritage approvals.

"Depending on how and where the sediment was disposed of, there may be further approvals required for sediment disposal, as well as removal."

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said improving water quality in the Vasse River was a challenging issue where there was a combination of a drying climate, flat geography and the competing uses of agriculture and urbanisation.

"I'm looking forward to meeting with local community members regarding their obvious concerns about this issue. I will also be asking some questions in parliament to address some of the concerns raised with me," she said.

"This community should also be given the opportunity to present to the Vasse Taskforce, which was initiated under the former Government, and funded to implement a range of improvements to our waterways including the rationalisation of waterways management.

"The Vasse Taskforce have collected a lot more knowledge on the waterways and improved the response to crises in the system but have not addressed the complex management structure of the many parts of the system.

"I believe there is an opportunity to introduce new thinking into our waterways management to bring about real improvement and change. Ultimately it would be beneficial if a single locally based and accessible agency managed all aspects of the system."