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Upper Catchment Issues Vol 3 No 3 - Abstract

Author: Tasmanian Community Resource Auditors Incorporated


The results of a two-year community based audit conducted in North East Tasmania, Australia, are presented. The audit examines the ability of Local, State and Federal authorities to effectively manage water catchments. Official government bodies at local, state and national levels all have a role to play in identifying and managing risks associated with the quality and supply of water for human consumption, commercial use and environmental maintenance of riverine and estuarine systems.

Events during 2003 to 2005 led to community concern at what was believed to be serious dysfunction within and between the various authorities responsible for public and environmental health. In 2003 a spray helicopter carrying pesticides for a forestry operation crashed near a river in the upper water catchment of the township of St Helens. The crash was followed by a "one in a hundred years" flood event. Shortly thereafter, massive mortalities occurred in farmed oysters and other species downstream in Georges Bay. The mortalities have remained unexplained to date. During 2004 the author completed an initial investigation of issues surrounding the helicopter crash which led to the publication of an audit report in 2004. The numerous issues of concern raised at that time highlighted the need for further investigation. Of particular concern was the manner in which authorities responded to incidents that could have led to significant impacts. It was clear that official bodies were not aware of the risks associated with chemical usage within the catchments above St Helens.

The principal focus of the inquiry reported in this paper was to explore the underlying causes for the failure to identify and manage risks associated with chemicals usage in the catchments.

This paper proposes that forestry and other activities in the catchment contribute to ongoing risks that require analysis and the design of mitigation strategies. The author argues that the authorities are ill prepared for future incidents and that they have failed to act on publicly funded professional advice from experts and community members during the past 3 years. Furthermore, dysfunction at local Council, State, and Federal Government levels indicates that water catchments and their ecosystems remain unprotected. These findings are highly significant not just for St Helens, but also for the other catchments within Tasmania and perhaps Australia as a whole.

Recommendations for a new way forward are proposed.

The inquiry process and outcomes reported in this paper builds upon the emerging tradition of community involvement in environmental decision-making.