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15 Apr, 2012 03:00 AM
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COW faeces is contaminating rivers and threatening Victoria’s drinking water supplies.
COW faeces is contaminating rivers and threatening Victoria’s drinking water supplies but the Baillieu government admits it has no plans to tackle the problem, identified in new research prepared for the Health Department.
Only weeks after the government renewed hundreds of cattle grazing licences around the Murray River, a damning report has reignited concerns about the public health risks of livestock grazing near waterways.
The report argues that manure contamination is often poorly controlled, and without adequate water treatment, the risk to public health would be ”several orders of magnitude” beyond tolerable levels.
”Many Victorians are supplied with drinking water that is harvested from waterways that are not protected from poorly controlled manure contamination,” it says.
”Therefore, within Victoria, poorly controlled manure from stock animals may present a more significant source of waterborne disease than the relatively better controlled human waste.”
The report – which was quietly placed on the Health Department’s website last week – points to West Gippsland, Glenelg Hopkins, Corangamite and north-east Victoria as areas most at risk. And in recommendations at odds with the Coalition’s country constituents, it urged the government to consider imposing buffer zones and fences around waterways, or banning livestock from grazing upstream of water catchments. This, the authors suggest, would be more reliable and cost-effective than ”attempting to remove contamination through fallible water treatment processes”.
Despite its findings, Health Minister David Davis insisted Victoria ”has some of the best quality drinking water in the world”, and that authorities already worked closely with land owners to ensure catchment areas are properly managed. ”There is no change proposed by the Victorian government in relation to livestock being able to access waterways,” said Mr Davis’ spokesman, Nathan Robinson.
But environmentalists say the findings should be a ”wake-up call” for the government, which recently reissued 229 grazing licences for public land along the Murray River, and has come under fire for other contentious policies, such as cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park.
”Issuing licences that let cattle urinate and defecate in the same water we use for drinking and domestic uses is a Third World approach to river management,” said Victorian National Parks Association spokesman Nick Roberts.”This report demands urgent government action to protect humans from serious health risks and provide adequate resources to fence off waterways and protect our river systems.”
The Victorian Farmers Federation disagreed, branding the report as ”gross misrepresentation” of the risks.
”It’s one thing to measure the impact [of animal waste] where it occurs, but what is the actual impact when the water is taken off? It’s highly diluted by that stage,” said VFF land management committee chairman Gerald Leach. The study was produced for the Health Department by Water Futures, a company specialising in water quality. It recommended:
¦ Removing pre-weaned calves and lambs (which carry the highest sources of risk) from catchments.
¦ Housing livestock in fenced areas away from water sources or creating five to 10 metre buffer zones.
¦ Government acquisition of land in areas ”where the risk cannot be lowered to an acceptable level by any other means”.
¦ Better incentives and education for land holders to improve the way they manage riparian land.
Landowners get incentives ranging from $2500 to $7000 per kilometre to keep stock away from waterways. However the report argues that the cost of fencing and the lack of enforcement by authorities means many landowners do not take up the subsidy.
Mr Leach said any program to remove stock from water frontages ”should be voluntary and incentive based”.[justify] Thank You For Your Support,
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