Many Launceston residents fondly recall the days of dipping into the Tamar River to escape a hot day.
Decades ago, at the banks of Royal Park, a soft sandy beach was a popular recreation place for locals – the cool flow of the Tamar River an inviting place for families to base themselves for a day.
But as mud, silt and enterococci bacteria swirls about, those days are long gone.
While the public amenity, with a focus on the build-up of silt in the Tamar yacht basin, is important – the biodiversity relating to plants and animals that call the estuary home requires a healthy river.
Prior to the opening of the Ti Tree Bend sewerage treatment plant in 1992 and the connection of the Killafaddy Abattoirs to the Hoblers Bend plant in 1994, public health in the Tamar was of concern.
In the early 1990s, bacteria levels in the estuary recorded at the Tamar Yacht Club were 1000 times above current dry weather measures.
There have been countless numbers of studies, investigations and talking groups established with a goal of improving the river’s poor health.
Build a barrage
Earlier this month a seven-year investigation culminated in the release of an early plan to construct a barrage downstream in the river.
With a total cost of $320 million, the study found a barrage installed at the south end of Long Reach would create a constant-level freshwater reservoir 80 per cent the size of Sydney Harbour.
Produced by Tamar Lake Incorporated, the report report noted a large reservoir would change the tidal action in the upper reaches; “greatly enhancing the quality of water upstream of the barrage and generally improving the use and amenity of the upper Tamar”.
With the barrage, no new silt accumulation will occur and the residual silt bed would erode with each major flood event.
The Tamar Lake Group has called for more research to ensure the plan is faultless.
Change the flow
In 2016 a longtime Tamar estuary researcher believed the silt problem could be solved by redirecting Tailrace flows through a canal on the river’s western side.
Ian Kidd, who was completing a PhD on estuarine science, has estimated that this waterway could remove 285,000 cubic metres of silt from the Yacht Basin.
Mr Kidd said the plan would address flow issues with the Tamar and would be an alternative to releasing the South Esk River.
Controlled water release
In 2015 the Tasmanian Government, Launceston Flood Authority and Hydro Tasmania began a trial to assess the effectiveness of a controlled release of water from the Trevallyn Dam coordinated with silt raking operations on the removal of silt from the Tamar estuary.
The Tamar Estuary has been affected by a silt build-up for more than 200 years.
The latest, and what many believe is the best shot at a solution, is funded through the Launceston City Deal.
Headed by Infrastructure Tasmania chief executive Allan Garcia, the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce has been established to bring stakeholders, scientists and experts together for a solution.
Covering about 15 per cent of Tasmania’s land mass – the catchment for the Tamar Estuary is significant.
The health of the river has improved over the years – largely thanks to groups like the Tamar Estuary and Esk Rivers, the Launceston City Council, TasWater and NRM North.
But as Mr Garcia notes; “there is more that can be done”.
Watching the river health groups come, study and go over the years, Launceston residents have a right to be cynical of an outcome.
The Taskforce has been charged with developing a River Health Action Plan by the end of 2017 which proposes priority investment in infrastructure and programs in the catchment.
Mr Garcia acknowledged people’s questions about the need for the management group.
“The reality is that for all the hard work that has gone before, the next step change in improved Estuary health will be resource intensive, more so than the current stakeholders can collectively muster,” he said.
“The taskforce has an initial budget of $2 million and with that, has established two working groups.
“One is focusing on the priorities to address the impacts of the combined system, the other looking at mitigating other sources of pollutants in the catchment.”
Mr Garcia said the plan would use this work to present a range of possible improvements for various levels of investment.
But the taskforce’s work will not be complete with the release of the action plan.
“There will no doubt be issues identified that will require further action and a part of the taskforce’s work is to propose an ongoing governance framework for the estuary that maintains the momentum,” he said.