These excerpts are taken from the Journal of Tasmanian Community Resource Auditors, volume 3, number 3, 2007
.”Risk Awareness and Incident Response Capability in Water Catchments in North Eastern Tasmania, Australia
– A Community Based Audit”
Dr Alison Bleaney OBE,(1)
We are grateful for permission to publish
Alison Bleaney is a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia
The audit reported in this edition of the Journal is significant for two reasons. First, it lays bare both the complexity and extent of the risks associated with the use of man made chemicals in catchments. The author, in successfully teasing out complex issues relating to legislation, water monitoring and toxicology has been able to show the causes and consequences of dysfunction on the part of those responsible for human and environmental health. One cannot help feeling for them as they struggle with their task. It is our hope that this audit may provide insights that assist our governments and communities to implement innovative risk management strategies for water catchments.
The second significant contribution this audit makes concerns the ability of community members to take on complex and difficult issues. The work of the Break O’Day Catchment Risk Group has been outstanding. They have supported the excellent work of Dr. Bleaney, who continues to show leadership and vision. This contribution is, in our view, as significant and important as any other.
Once again community has shown that its ability and the knowledge it produces are of high quality and valid. Just what is needed as we enter the new era of community led change.
The Editorial team
Upper Catchment Issues Tasmania
The results of a two-year community based audit conducted in North East Tasmania, Australia, are presented. The audit examines the ability of Local, State and Federal authorities to effectively manage water catchments. Official government bodies at local, state and national levels all have a role to play in identifying and managing risks associated with the quality and supply of water for human consumption, commercial use and environmental maintenance of riverine and estuarine systems.
Events during 2003 to 2005 led to community concern at what was believed to be serious dysfunction within and between the various authorities responsible for public and environmental health. In 2003 a spray helicopter carrying pesticides for a forestry operation crashed near a river in the upper water catchment of the township of St Helens. The crash was followed by a “one in a hundred years” flood event. Shortly thereafter, massive mortalities occurred in farmed oysters and other species downstream in Georges Bay. The mortalities have remained unexplained to date. During 2004 the author completed an initial investigation of issues surrounding the helicopter crash which led to the publication of an audit report in 2004. The numerous issues of concern raised at that time highlighted the need for further investigation. Of particular concern was the manner in which authorities responded to incidents that could have led to significant impacts. It was clear that official bodies were not aware of the risks associated with chemical usage within the catchments above St Helens.
The principle focus of the inquiry reported in this paper was to explore the underlying causes for the failure to identify and manage risks associated with chemical usage in the catchments.
This paper proposes that forestry and other activities in the catchment contribute to ongoing risks that require analysis and the design of mitigation strategies. The author argues that the authorities are ill prepared for future incidents and that they have failed to act on publicly funded professional advice from experts and community members during the past 3 years. Furthermore, dysfunction at local Council, State, and Federal Government levels indicates that water catchments and their ecosystems remain unprotected. These finding are highly significant not just for St Helens, but also for the other catchments within Tasmania and perhaps Australia as a whole.
Recommendations for a new way forward are proposed.
The inquiry process and outcomes reported in this paper builds upon the emerging tradition of community involvement in environmental decision-making (2).
1.Dr Alison Bleaney has been a Rural General Practitioner for 29 years, with 17 of those in St Helens. She is the spokesperson for the Break O’Day Catchment Risk Group, which was formed in 2004 in response to issues affecting drinking water quality and local catchment issues.
2.Tattersall, P.J. 1991, “Community Based Sampling – what is it?” Organic Growing, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 2-3.