THERE has been a continued push in the Hastings for the reversion of Lake Innes to fresh water.
The Plan of Management for Lake Innes adopted by National Parks and Wildlife Service, states that, “Prior to 1933 Lake Innes was not part of the Cathie estuarine system but a separate freshwater lake before it was deliberately drained.”
The report also said a feature of the freshwater lake was its abundant and diverse waterbird population. The introduction of saline water and tidal water variations resulted in extensive changes to the biology of the lake, including the loss of much of the freshwater habitat.
Former Port Macquarie MP Peter Besseling raised the issue in State Parliament late last year, stating reverting the lake would be many environmental benefits.
The Member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, has recently announced that the Federal Budget includes $1 million towards planning and works on the Lake Innes freshwater reversion.
Mr Oakeshott said “The $1 million for Lake Innes will support work to revert the lake to its natural and original freshwater state”.
Lake Cathie Progress Association has been pressing for Lake Innes to be closed off from the estuary for many years. Association Secretary, Jack Jones, is pleased that funding has been secured for the project. He believes the change would bring great benefit to the region, including the potential for freshwater fishing and better water flows in the estuary, which connects to Lake Cathie and the potential to increase tourist numbers to the Hastings.
“We were getting very concerned for the future of Lake Innes,” he said.
“There is a narrow and closing window of opportunity before Lake Innes declines permanently to the status of a salt marsh, which is virtually a dead lake. Eleven years ago our 2000 Lake Cathie Village Master Plan rated the reversion as a high priority issue and the need to act becomes greater every day.”
The Plan of Management for Lake Innes adopted by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) states that the reversion of the Lake is likely to provide a secure permanent breeding habitat for many species of waterbird, both freshwater and salt-tolerant species as well as a drought refuge to those species restricted to freshwater.
The plan also points out that a freshwater lake would eventually lead to more species diversity, an increase in frog and turtle species and an expanded food supply for birds.
NPWS undertook comprehensive studies in 1994 investigating the environmental impacts of closing the lake and said more work needed to be done exploring the engineering, social and economic impacts of changing the lake back to fresh water.
In 2002, NPWS commissioned environmental consultants Umwelt (Australia) Pty Ltd to review existing information about the processes affecting Lake Innes, and to consult with the local community, leading to a recommendation for the future management of the Lake.
Their report “Tale of Two Lakes, Managing Lake Innes and Lake Cathie for Improved Ecological and Community Outcomes - Issues and Options” report was completed in February 2004. This was a precursor for the Environmental Impact Statement for the reversion of Lake Innes to fresh water to be prepared by National Parks Service.
A working party, representing all the interested parties and organisations, will be established to prepare a brief for an EIS to ensure all the relevant issues are examined. The isolation of Lake Innes from Lake Cathie will change the lake conditions requiring a review of the management plan.
The Residents Action Network is one such organisation which has been campaigning to save Lake Innes for some years. “Lake Innes is already under serious threat that will only be accelerated by climate change. It has the potential to be a magnificent asset to the Port Macquarie-Hastings LGA,” RAN spokesperson Penny Marshall said.
She said RAN will look forward to participating in the EIS process.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council’s development and environment director Matt Rogers said the lake was drained in 1933 in an attempt to provide more arable land for farming.
He said the council supported the concept of returning the lake to a fresh water system in principle, subject to the outcomes of the feasibility study and environmental assessments.
“[Returning the lake to freshwater] would have no specific impact on infrastructure that I am aware of,” Mr Rogers said.
“There would be possible positive benefits to Lake Cathie associated with increased tidal flushing and range when the lake is open.”
The management of the lake is under National Parks and Wildlife Service control.