The Launceston Chamber of Commerce is calling for the establishment of an independent body with "teeth" to oversee the restoration of kanamaluka/ Tamar River as councils back the current plan.
Restoration work on the Tamar Estuary has been going on for decades with gradual improvements being made in water quality as infrastructure around Launceston is upgraded.
Under the current action plan there is a goal of reducing pollution in the portion of the estuary between Legana and Launceston.
The latest Health of the Tamar Report Card showed improvements across the catchment, but the stretch between Legana and Launceston still received a D rating.
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A D translates to poor ecosystem health. Although this was up from a F, or fail, grade in 2018 there are disputing theories on whether the current action plan is working fast enough.
Launceston Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer David Peach said the health of the estuary was too important to get wrong.
He said a completely independent body was needed to consult all stakeholders and explore all options for restoring the system.
"Launceston sits at the confluence of two rivers and an estuary; they're intertwined with the fabric of the city itself and Greater Launceston. That system forms a big part of our history; and a huge part in our collective future," Mr Peach said.
"There are many stakeholders all wanting what's best for the Tamar ; that much is a given. But what's best differs for each group, and for valid, important reasons that need to be heard and matched against opposing views. It'd be fair to say that there is actually a lot of shared ambition. That needs to be recognised and where opposition occurs, treat that as knowledge, not dispute; and work toward common ground."
Mr Peach said the independent authority would need to have the ability to enforce policy decisions.
"The Chamber would like to see a completely independent authority appointed to engage with all interest groups and stakeholders in a consultative manner," he said.
"An authority, with teeth, to form and enforce policy that informs planning decisions and supports the health of the Tamar, recognising its status as a natural system, the urgency of action needed, and with the prudence needed to ensure the Tamar remains an asset for future generations."
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The Tamar estuary systems flows through about 15 per cent of Tasmania before eventually draining in the Launceston area.
City of Launceston mayor Alber van Zetten said improving the health of the system had long been a priority for the council. He said the restoration process was challenging due to the wide ranging nature of the catchment.
"The catchment encompasses more than 10,000 square kilometres and five major river systems across nine municipalities," Cr van Zetten said.
"That was why it was important for us to have the creation of the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce and River Health Action Plan included in the Launceston City Deal, so that we were able to work across all levels of government and with a range of different agencies."
Cr van Zetten said the multi-agency approach had provided an unprecedented opportunity to address the health of the river.
"In 2020 alone, the City of Launceston has worked with other tiers of government and partner organisations like NRM North on a sewage intrusion investigation program," he said.
"This program has identified nearly 40 crossed sewerage connections from private residences across Launceston. The rectification of these crossed connections will result in an estimated 9.6 mega litres of sewage being diverted away from our waterways each year."
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He said there was still work to do and that the community may need to change its perception of what a healthy river looks like.
"The community often has differing expectations on what a 'healthier' estuary might look like. As our understanding has improved, it's become clear that some of the things people have objected to historically - like mudflats - are actually a normal part of a tidal estuary. So some of our expectations may need to change," Cr van Zetten said.
The mayors of George Town, West Tamar and the Northern Midlands councils all agreed that improving the health of the river was important. Greg Kieser, Christina Holmdahl and Mary Knowles all said they were happy with how the current management plan was progressing.
Cr Knowles said the Northern Midlands supported moves to get livestock and farming chemicals away from the river. She said the council had invested in water sensitive urban design to try and trap silt before it gets down stream.
Tourism Northern Tasmania chief executive officer Chris Griffin said the more we were able to access the Tamar in its natural state the more appealing Launceston would be as a tourist destination. He said he didn't know whether the current management plan was progressing fast enough, but expected a fix to take years.
"My understanding is to fully recover the estuary system we are talking about years and years of solid effort, not some quick fix," Mr Griffin said.
"What I think is exciting is we could restore the estuary system via natural interventions, such as planting out the mudflats that many people dislike the look of. Having native Tasmanian plants that are well suited to that environment stabilising these areas. In this way we not need to invest in more expensive and invasive efforts."
Mr Griffin said there was an opportunity to market the Tamar as another of Tasmania's natural tourist destinations.
"Being able to do more on the water around the city and up the valley will offer more opportunities to develop new businesses, both on and off the water," he said.
"With many of our visitors being motivated to travel to Tasmania for its natural places, many perceived as being untouched wilderness, we have the opportunity to present the Tamar as a natural waterway and use and respect as such. But first we need to focus on improving the Tamar's health by reducing pollutants."
Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association chief executive officer Peter Skillern and Tasmanian Irrigation chief executive officer Andrew Kneebone both said improving water quality was a priority. However, Mr Kneebone said even with improved quality they wouldn't be able to use water from the Tamar for irrigation.
"The Tamar is an estuary and as such it has a high salt content that is not suitable for irrigation purposes," he said.
"Tasmanian Irrigation is looking to access fresh water from the Trevallyn Dam for the Tamar Irrigation Scheme."
- This article is part of an ongoing series exploring the health of the Tamar River
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