$200M plan to make the Wilsons River clean enough to swim in
AN AMBITIOUS $200 million, 15 year plan to restore the Richmond River to its former glory will be a pillar of The Greens' campaign at next year's state election.
The degraded river system was graded an overall D- in a comprehensive 2014 expert report and is one of the unhealthiest rivers in NSW.
Almost half of its 21 river systems received a score of F for water quality in the University of New England Ecohealth report, including the Wilsons River, Leycester Creek, and the upper and lower estuarine areas below Woodburn.
Greens candidate for Lismore Sue Higginson said there was no debate the river was in a dire state and action was needed now.
"The river system is the sixth largest in NSW and is vital to the future of our region for farming, sustainable tourism, business, education, cultural rights, and recreation," she said.
The $200 million plan over 10-15 years would create a Richmond River catchment "health commissioner" responsible for overseeing and carrying out the strategy and would include:
- Fencing, stock, and watering incentives to get graziers to relocate their herds away from sensitive riparian zones
- Planting millions of trees in strategic locations in the riparian zones, which would have beneficial flood mitigation aspects
- A fund to acquire strategically important land if land use needs to change, to place conservation and river health covenants on the land, and then on-sell those lands to a new owner
- The Commissioner would have the power to enter into voluntary covenants with owners, including incentives where land-use changes are required
- The Commissioner would also be a one-stop shop for approvals and programs for local government or state government agencies responsible for river programs.
- Ceasing of logging on public native forest lands that form the headwaters of the Richmond River catchment.
- Working with Native Title holders to develop best-practice land management.
Ms Higginson said the plan also included making the Wilsons River at Lismore "swimmable" for families once again, providing a crucial amenity for the town.
The Greens held a roundtable on Friday at Southern Cross University attended by industry stakeholders including the sugar cane, oyster, and fishing industries, representation from the new National Centre for Flood Research at SCU, Landcare, Rous Water, and local indigenous groups.
A lead author of the 2014 UNE report also came to explain the science behind the study.
"We put the plan on the table for the purposes of discussion and feedback, we got some fantastic feedback," Ms Higginson said.
"That is going to integrated, and the final plan will be presented early next year."
Ballina MP Tamara Smith said the lower river was once a "fisher's paradise" but today it was a shadow of its former self.
"It was the economic lifeblood of this community 100 years' ago... it was the prawn, fishing, and oyster growing mecca for the region."
"Now it's got an F rating at the Ballina end and by every indicator of river health it's one of the most unhealthy rivers in Australia.
"The economic loss is huge.
"Recreational fishers just don't come anymore."
"We're drawing a line in the sand and saying everyone wants to fix it... show us the money."
Ms Smith said the Noosa river (which has a catchment eight times smaller than the Richmond) once had a D rating, and now has a A rating.
"It took them a decade, but the Queensland government put a lot of money into it."
On Saturday the Greens held a paddle day on the river with a guided tower on kayaks of some of the damaged zones alongside areas where tree and grass planting has supported the riparian zone.
Ms Higginson said the plan ought to receive "tripartisan support" from all three parties.
"I just cannot see how anybody from any political persuasion would not want our essential river, which is the lifeblood of so much of our community, economically, socially, and culturally, why they would not want to support the revival and recovery of a river in such a sad condition.
Nationals candidate for Lismore Austin Curtin said the health and sustainability of the Richmond River was important but noted $200 million was a "huge" amount of money.
"I look forward to having a look at the details," he said.