Minister for myths – left high and dry on water arguments

The debate over logging water catchments has been won hands down by environmental arguments, but Minister Thwaites refuses to accept the science.

Below are his bizarre arguments and the responses from Sarah Rees from the Central Highlands Alliance, who’s been tracking this issue for years.

John Thwaites – Only 0.02% of Melbourne’s catchments are logged each year.

Sarah Rees – Over the last 30 years, one third of the catchment has been logged. But more importantly, logging has been concentrated in the high rainfall part of the catchment, where the tall ash forests grow and where 70% of the rain falls. Thwaites is using measurements based on 1960’s rainfall levels. The 60s were one of the wettest decades in the last 100 years. We are now in the driest decade on record. Logging in a high rainfall period has less water impacts than during drought.

JT – We know young trees suck up more water, we are now recalculating the effect of this.

SR – They already have 50 years worth of studies on this topic to prove that logging dries out water catchments. The ‘science’ that this government uses to justify logging has been wrong for a decade.

JT – I am satisfied that the amount of water lost due to logging is modest.

SR – ‘Modest’ might be correct when catchment dams are 80% full, during a high rainfall era 40 years ago. The term ‘high risk’ is more correct during our current conditions when dams are only 18% full, as there is so little runoff to make it to our dams.

JT – There is dispute over the effect of logging in catchments, but I believe the balance is right.

SR – The financial ‘balance’ sees $1.8 million in royalties go to the government for allowing logging of the Thomson while it loses $20 million worth of water due to that logging.

The ecological ‘balance’ sees species being tipped over the edge – “we are now experiencing localised extinctions of flagship species in the Thomson” – DSE 2007.

Maybe he means that the 20 billion litres of clean water lost through logging is balanced by taking 21 billion litres from the Tarago Dam each year (after spending $60 million to make it potable).

In 2002/3 the evidence of water loss due to logging in Melbourne’s water catchment was indisputable. Since then around 750 hectares of high rainfall forest has been logged and around 80,000 million litres of water lost. In response, our environment minister has decided to do more studies that will take more than five years.

John Thwaites made these statements at a public forum held by Labor (Bob Stensholt & Anna Burke) in Ashburton on “Climate Change and Water” 16th May ‘07.

Sarah Rees

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