Yatco Lagoon

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation questions on the subject of the Yatco Lagoon.

An honourable member: Yatco Lagoon?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Yatco.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Yatco Lagoon—see, I don't need the President—lies on the flood plain of the River Murray with its major connection to the river being adjacent to the township of Moorook. The wetland system comprises two lagoons connected through a narrow human-made causeway. With the construction of Lock and Weir 3 in 1925, the site became permanently inundated. This move from natural patterns of wetting and drying to permanent inundation, while allowing for irrigation and domestic water supplies to be sourced from the lagoons, has contributed to a gradual decline in water quality in the system and the health of fringing trees and other vegetation in some parts of the system.

In 2007, under the Riverina Recovery Project, a natural cycle of wetting and drying annually through a management plan was reintroduced to the lagoon. The watering plan for the north lagoon for this year is now a week overdue and there is concern that a build-up of acid sulphate will leak onto neighbouring land. The Yatco Wetland Group had sent a request to the department to undertake this watering in the north lagoon on agreement with local departmental experts, but I understand this request was denied by the minister and pushed out for four weeks. My questions to the minister are:

1.Why has he overruled local expertise and his own departmental staff to push the watering cycle out for four weeks?

2.Is he planning to travel to Yatco Lagoon for watering in three weeks' time?

3.What are the environmental implications of this decision to delay the watering program?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:22 :35 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. However, once again, I need to remind honourable members opposite that they should not always rely on information that comes to them. In this case the allegations made by the Hon. Michelle Lensink are completely false. There has been no denial by me about watering plans for Yatco Lagoon—in fact, just the opposite—but I will come to that in a moment.

During the millennium drought an embankment was built across Yatco Lagoon to reduce evaporative water losses creating northern and southern lagoons. Subsequently the state government was successful in securing funding through the Riverina Recovery Project to install flow regulators at the site. The new infrastructure will be managed adaptively to restore more natural wetting and drying regimes and greatly assist in the ecological recovery of the Yatco Lagoon. This will also deliver environmental water savings and significant social benefits for the community by substantially improving the visual amenity of the lagoon.

Scherer Contractors, a Riverland company, was engaged to construct the new regulating infrastructure. They constructed four new environmental flow regulators, as well as widening Middle Creek, to ensure greater flow into both lagoons. Civil works were completed in 2014 at a cost of almost $1 million. Following completion of these works, it was decided in consultation with the Yatco community to completely dry the site to eliminate carp from the wetland. I am told that this drying phase is almost complete.

An event to officially open the wetland and recognise the contributions of all stakeholders is currently scheduled, I am advised, for 21 April 2015, and I believe I will be travelling for that event. I understand that some within the Riverland community have raised concerns that the commissioning of the new infrastructure in the northern lagoon should occur earlier to decrease the risk of adverse environmental impacts from saline groundwater drainage, given the very dry conditions currently being experienced.

I have made it clear to those groups I have spoken to and to my department as the asset controller that, should the connection to the river be required earlier to manage any adverse impacts from prolonged drying, the infrastructure should be used for its primary purpose. They should not wait for the formal opening ceremony. I will be very pleased to attend the formal opening ceremony, however, on 21 April, pose for photographs, cut ribbons, whatever they want to suggest I do—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Eat carp.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —to celebrate this wonderful piece of infrastructure, regardless of whether the filling process has commenced or otherwise. Indeed, I will even eat carp, as the Hon. Michelle Lensink has offered. I have done so previously and I can tell you, with the appropriate amount of sauces and treatment, it is quite delicious.

 The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 14:25 :09 ): Supplementary question: can the minister advise what the most recent advice from his department was as to when it should be wet again?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:25 :22 ): No, I don't have that information to hand. However, I will ask my office to look back on the records and find out when that most recent advice came up to us, if it had done so. But again, I just take this opportunity to gently admonish the opposition about coming into here, into this place, and making allegations based on false information or, indeed, improperly using information to make false allegations in this place. It is not the done thing.
In reply to  the Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 25 March 2015 ). 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) : The Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation has received this advice: 

The most recent advice regarding the reopening of the Yatco Lagoon was provided by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources on 24 March 2015. That advice identified 21 April 2015 as the date for the formal opening event, but did not specify a date to open the control regulators at Yatco.