02 February, 2008

HERALDSUN: Water wars over logging

Peter Flaherty
Heraldsun (article), February 02, 2008

More than 20 billion litres of water is being lost in Melbourne's catchments every year because of logging.

Angry residents who want logging in a catchment near Healesville stopped have made the claim, which has been backed by a senior CSIRO scientist.

The Sustainability and Environment Department's decision to allow logging in the Armstrong Creek catchment has outraged locals and the Yarra Ranges Shire Council.

Logging began before Christmas and is expected to be completed by April.

Healesville businesswoman Sarah Rees said loggers wanted prized mountain ash.

"Mountain ash are among the largest trees in the world and they need the most water to grow," she said. "As they grow, they can suck up to 50 per cent of any runoff."

Research estimated logging slashed flows to the Thomson Dam by almost 20 billion litres a year, she said.

"That's almost the capacity of the Maroondah Reservoir. If logging continues across the catchments,

60 billion litres will be lost annually from Melbourne's water supply by 2050."

CSIRO senior scientist Richard Benyon said logging would reduce flows into Melbourne's catchments.

A loss of 20 billion litres a year was "not an unrealistic figure", he said.

"While it's only a small percentage of the amount of water Melbourne uses each year, all water is precious in a time of drought," he said.

Dr Benyon, who has completed a study into how bushfires affect water flows, said bushfires and logging had the same impact on runoff.

"After bushfires or logging, new growth sucks up water for several decades as it grows," he said.

DSE director of public land policy Nina Cullen said claims that 20 billion litres a year was being lost because of logging were wrong.

"Stream flows from the forested catchments are actually increasing, regardless of timber harvesting, because the vast majority of forests in the catchments are naturally ageing following the 1939 bushfires," she said.

Melbourne had 157,00ha of catchments and no more than 340ha was logged in any one year, she said.

Timber Communities Australia spokesman Scott Gentle said the amount logged each year was a fraction of the total catchment.

"Logging creates jobs and is a sustainable industry," he said. "There's real balance in what we do."

Yarra Ranges Shire councillor Samantha Dunn said the council opposed logging in catchment areas and had "overwhelming support" from residents.

The case that only a small part of catchments was logged was "ridiculous", she said.

". . . the phrase, 'it's only a little bit' adds up when it's repeated all the time."

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