Tamar River Cleanup: The Elusive Challenge that’s yet to be conquered

Tamar River Cleanup: The Elusive Challenge that’s yet to be conquered

The Tamar River Estuary, like a stubborn stain on a white shirt, has been a topic of discussion for many years. While the chatter flows, the river remains the same silty, muddy mess fraught with rice grass that it has been for years. Its murky appearance frequently sparks frustration among those who long for a more pristine river. 

The Tamar River system serves as the primary drainage for a substantial portion of Tasmania encompassing a vast region from Myrtle Park to beyond Mathinna, St Marys, Lake Leake, Tooms Lake, Tunbridge, and Meander, including the Ben Lomond massif, Western Tiers, and much of the Central Plateau. This extensive watershed is influenced by both HEC works and the Poatina power station. Its tributary rivers flow through expansive forestry and agricultural areas, while numerous towns with associated sewerage facilities have developed along its banks. 

In the upper Tamar Estuary, sedimentation occurs as a natural phenomenon. Historical records depict a shallow channel bordered by vast tidal flats and low-tide wetlands. Concerns over sedimentation have been voiced by residents since the early days of European settlement. 

European settlers have significantly transformed the river system through timber harvesting and extensive land clearing farming activities that have greatly impacted the river system. 

Efforts to enhance navigation in the Upper Estuary commenced in the 1830s with the establishment of the Port of Launceston. 

Since the early 1800’s locals have made requests to ‘clean up the river’ or ‘get rid of the mud’ but to no avail. 

In 1947, rice grass was introduced to trap the sediment and therefore make the Estuary more accessible for larger ships and help stabilise mud flats, although sadly this did not make a difference. In fact, the introduction of the rice grass seen the narrowing of the channel which only exacerbated the problem.  

The river has seen a long history of dredging campaigns take place over the years. Promisingly, these campaigns do seem to have results, even if there is little improvement visible from the water’s surface. 

During a period where dredging was not taking place, we interviewed members of the former Tamar Action Group, a team of locals passionate about cleaning up the river, who at the time said it was ‘incredibly evident’ that the build-up of mud had expanded since the dredging and raking in the Tamar were stopped. 

Last month the Tamar Estuary and Esk Rivers (TEER) Program hosted the fourth biennial forum which seen industry experts, environmental professionals and community members gather to discuss the health and future of our waterways.  

The forum included discussions on a diverse range of topics including the Stony Creek Nation connections to waterways, urban waterway management, and an update on the ‘Future Vision for the Upper Estuary’, and investments into the River Health Action Plan. 

TEER Program Manager Darren McPhee said the forum is a great opportunity to share knowledge about our waterways. 

“We know the community cares about the health of our waterways and wants to be kept up to date with how they are managed, and relevant research occurring both locally and further afield… we are excited to have such a variety of topics included in this year’s event,” said Mr McPhee. 

Established in 2008, the TEER Program is a partnership between 19 agencies responsible for the effective management of the Tamar Estuary and Esk river waterways. 

Chair of the TEER Program’s Strategy and Partnership Committee, Michael Stretton, said this coming together of organisations that contribute to the management of waterway health is an opportunity for valuable discussion and networking. 

“By joining in conversation, we enhance our collective understanding of the function and health of local waterways, which enables us to effectively manage and protect these important waterways,” said Mr Stretton. 

Latest attempts to fix the river will see the construction of a three kilometre, one-metre diameter pipeline that will travel 40 metres under the riverbed of the Tamar Estuary.  

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