Image for Precious Freshwater diverted to Aquaculture

Tasmania is in a period of historic drought.

The Huon Aquaculture Company has a freshwater “flow-through” hatchery hidden away behind a stand of trees alongside the Russell River in Lonnavale, Southern Tasmania. There are a total of 14 of these “no-longer-considered-best-practice” flow-through Aquaculture hatcheries currently operating throughout Tasmania – and another is in development with the blessing of Inland Fisheries, the Environmental Protection Agency and Water Resources within DPIPWE.

Back in 2007 Huon Aquaculture were given a water licence from DPIPWE to extract 0.3 Cumecs (26 million litres) of pristine mountain stream water every day of the year into their flow through pond system which holds their many thousands of prized brood fish.

In turn this pristine water, rich in oxygen, flows through their ponds and in the process picks up pollutants of fish faeces and high nutrient undigested fish feed which is then discharged back into the river downstream from their hatchery. The Google Map pic below shows the outdoor ponds “highlighted in orange” at their Lonnavale site.

Every day of the year water is diverted from the Russell River into the ponds and is then discharged downstream back into the river enriched with high nutrient sewage.

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The end result, which I have shared before in Tasmanian Times, is excessive downstream eutrophication, consisting of filamentous green algae 300mm long and more, and has been reported by the EPA as being 100% coverage – none of which occurs upstream from the hatchery.

One species of the downstream algae, as identified by the EPA, only grows in polluted waters.

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Enter the Department of Water Resources, DPIPWE

Yet another issue being swept under the carpet by the Huon Aquaculture Company, the EPA, Inland Fisheries, the Huon Valley Council and the Department of Water Resources within DPIPWE; the taking of the equivalent of 10 Olympic swimming pools of pristine freshwater from our river every day of the year regardless of the flow.

In the past 8 months or more the Russell River has been experiencing extremely low water flows, much like the rest of our State – no surprise there. It is on the record that at times of the year the River only has a total flow of up to 0.3 Cumecs or 26 million litres – sounds ridiculous, but this now publically listed Company has been given the water rights to take up to 100% of our river – and no one gives a toss!!

Not one local, state or federal body has any concerns about almost completely draining a section of our river in the pursuit of shareholder profits.

And a comment from General Manager, Huon Valley Council confirmed to me this week:

“The Council does not have a role in waterway management generally as this falls within the jurisdiction of the State Government and its agencies. The Council does not have specific strategies or funding for such in relation to waterways.”

This pic taken 27th April 2016 is our river just down and around the corner from where the Huon Aquaculture Company diverts the bulk of the river into their hatchery – a mere trickle remains.

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And this pic, also taken 27th April 2016, clearly shows the flow going to the right diverting into the hatchery. The trickle to the left is what makes it way downstream – and even this section has been dammed with boulders to increase the amount of diversion on the right.

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In September 2014 I commenced my enquiries with Water Resources, Dr Martin Read, Acting Director, Rural and Urban Water and unfortunately almost 20 months on – I have not made any progress whatsoever.

Not only have the responses been obfuscating, some in my view have been downright rude – and many of my inquiring questions remain unanswered to this day – just too hard.

On 27th January 2016, Dr Read wrote to me in part saying “As you would be aware the state is currently suffering extreme dry conditions which have placed other higher priority tasks ahead of my response to you.”

A letter obtained under freedom of information, 4th February 2008 from then Director Warren Jones to the General Manager, Huon Valley Council, Geoff Cockerill, stated in part:

“The water management branch reported their record of very low flows in the Russell River over recent years and advised that currently natural flow in the river is significantly less than the environmental flow triggers attached to the HAC water licence. Pollutants in the water being returned to the river after use in the hatchery create a high level of environmental risk in this low flow state. These matters also impact on downstream water use of the Russell River which includes potable water, irrigation, stock water and primary contact recreational use”.

An internal memo within the EPA, also obtained under freedom of information, 31st January 2008 stated:

“In terms of regulatory jurisdiction Water Resources are concerned with water allocation licences and maintaining environmental flows. The Inland Fisheries Service is concerned with species being stocked and production rates.  Council regulates the general environmental conditions of the activity, including quality of discharges to the river. While Council have issued an EPN and an EIN HAC are still non-compliant with discharges to the river.

“Water Resources report that the Russell River has had low flows for the past four years and that the current water allocation licence is no longer appropriate to maintain environmental flow.  The flow in the river is not sufficient to provide dilution of pollutants discharged from the flow through system.”

On 16th January 2015, Dr Martin Read wrote to me following my expressed concerns about the volume of water being diverted into the Huon Aquaculture Hatchery in which I referred to these documents – specifically the statement made by Water Resources:

“The current water allocation licence is no longer appropriate to maintain environmental flow”

Dr Martin Read responded in part, with one of his many difficult to read responses (in my view)

“it’s important to consider the words that appear around this in (the EPA memorandum) and the Warren Jones letter of 4th February 2008 to Huon Valley Council.  The preceding sentence and following sentence reflect the very dry conditions experienced in 2007-8 at the tail end of the drought. During that time natural flows in the river did drop to very low levels and these were naturally lower than the cease to takes set which are conservative and based on the average flow condition – not the dry condition. The water allocation is also based on an average condition using hydrological modelling.  I interpret this statement to mean that the water allocation cannot be met during very low flow conditions.  Accordingly Water Resource Division did issue a restriction notice to Huon Aquaculture at that time. I don’t regard the statement as generic and the information in both attachments suggests the statement is made in reference to the extremely dry conditions at the time.”

Therefore drought issues in 2007–2008 are the reasons and concern behind the views held by Water Resources at the time.

On 18th January 2016 I again wrote to Dr Martin Read, stating in part

“Given the recent declaration of drought conditions in Tasmania by Minister Rockliff, I once again raise my grave concerns about the current condition of the Russell River in Lonnavale with respect to the current water allocation licence under which the Huon Aquaculture Company is operating (Licence # 8542 – 26ML/Day, 9490ML/Year).”

And a response from Dr Martin Read, 2nd February 2016:

“Since your initial email, a water ranger has checked the river twice (20 January and 28 January) and found reasonable flow in the river between the intake and outflow and downstream of the outflow. In addition the recent significant rainfall across the state will be reflected in increased river flows and given the flow rises in southern rivers I expect this will apply to the Russel. (sic)”

Absolutely shocked at this response since I had photos January 18th and January 26th which are akin to the pics taken this week – I asked how could the water ranger possibly suggest this was reasonable flow – and did they happen to take any of their own photos…

The ONLY response from Acting Director, Dr Martin Read was:

“The term reasonable is mine not the water rangers based on the flow estimation provided and what I would consider to be “reasonable” during the dry period we have had.”

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January 18th 2016

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January 26th 2016

Freedom of Information ...

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Rebecca Hubbard, Environment Tasmania: Government Approves Fish Disease And Dead Zones For Macquarie Harbour Fish Farms  Environment Tasmania is calling for immediate independent review of the Tasmanian Government’s unexpected decision to increase the density of farmed fish in Macquarie Harbour, citing evidence that the harbour is already in a state of chronic environmental stress. “Macquarie Harbour is already experiencing ongoing problems with dissolved oxygen levels, bacteria mats and disease outbreaks,” said Laura Kelly of Environment Tasmania.”

• Dead Scientist in Comments: The flow-through methodology, unfortunately, would appear to be the standard in this State. If the readers would like a reminder themselves of just how bad things can get with flow-through systems, just check out the Bicheno abalone disease outbreak back in 2011. Not freshwater but same methodology! We take perfectly good water, stick it through a system and throw away whatever comes out the other end, with the exception of profit of coarse. If this State is achieve profitable and sustainable primary industries this sort of behaviour must stop. Trashing our resources at a time when they are scarcest is simply stupid. It is sad indeed that any meaningful water governance has ceased in this State, with the public service meekly rubber-stamping development approvals and turning a blind eye to breaches.