Lori Gould can’t put it any other way.
“Crack willow is a shocker,” she says of the trees that are choking up parts of the Wollondilly and Mulwaree Rivers around Goulburn.
“They suck up water and they’re so invasive they take away all the vegetation diversity and their leaves drop in the river to create a toxic environment.”
The Australian River Restoration Centre program manager gives both rivers a moderate health rating.
While some parts are very degraded, there are also areas springing with life, she says.
A $100,000 State Government grant will help to rectify the problem.
Goulburn MP Pru Goward announced the funding last week, saying it would continue the Centre’s Rivers of Carbon project in the Goulburn area.
The project connects and links riverbank rehabilitation programs that have been undertaken by various groups, including Landcare, over the past 20 years.
Ms Gould said the money was very welcome, particularly as the 10-year program was only funded for five years.
“It will allow us to remove more willows, do fencing, re-vegetation and erosion control,” she said.
In the Goulburn area, the Centre is signing up 30 landholders under Rivers of Carbon to protect and enhance 25km of riparian corridor and link 1500 hectares of remnant vegetation.
An offshoot program, Source Water Linkages, is enlisting 60 landowners to manage sections of river on their patch, creeks, wetlands and ponds to reduce erosion, improve water quality, control erosion and boost biodiversity.
Ms Gould said the organisation would use some of the funds to remove crack willows from sections of the rivers that were “completely choked” and posed a threat.
Canyonleigh property owner, Ken McNally, who has been working to restore the Wollondilly River near him since he moved to the area in 1972, said Landcare had removed crack willows from his section in 2009.
But 2010 floods had washed them back into the water, where they remained.
“It’s exacerbated the problem,” Mr McNally said.
“It was originally planted by Land and Water Conservation to control erosion. It’s different to the weeping willow which doesn’t have such an extensive root system. Crack willow does and it blocks the river….It’s come back to bite us on the bum.”
Mr McNally said when the river wasn’t fenced, stock would eat the crack willow, therefore offering some level of control. But now that much of it was fenced, it was taking over. He argues that councils also have an obligation to control crack willow but “no one was addressing it.”
“When I bought the property in 1972 I wanted to paddle my canoe all the way (along the Wollondilly river) to Goulburn, but that clearly is not possible,” he said.
Crack willow is a shocker ... They suck up water and they’re so invasive they ... create a toxic environment.Lori Gould, Australian River Restoration Centre
“Goulburn has the walking trail, which is very nice, but once you get down the river, you see that it’s all choked up.”
Mr McNally is a member of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative working party, aimed at protecting, linking and restoring healthy habitats over 3,600 kilometres from Western Victoria through NSW and the ACT and into Far North Queensland. It is also focused on the rivers.
He told The Post that Great Eastern Ranges and Wollondilly Shire Council successfully applied for a $500,000 grant to resolve similar willow issues in the Wingecarribee River. He attends meetings in the hope that the work can extend to the Wollondilly River.
Ms Gould has visited his property. She said several hundred thousand dollars would be needed to un-choke five to 10km of river. While the current funding would not be spent around Mr McNally’s section, she was working with other organisations to secure funding.
Mr McNally previously completed a study on a section of the river from Gibraltar Rocks to Carrick district property, Arthursleigh.
“I spoke to landowners and their main concern was crack willow taking over the river and choking carp. The other issue was the large number of wombats beside the river,” he said.
Not only were the wombats burrowing into the lush green bank, causing erosion, but more road kill was appearing.
His group is exploring the possibility of relocating the wombats to sanctuaries such as Braidwood’s where they could become a tourist attraction.
Asked about the Wollondilly River funding, Mr McNally was cautiously welcoming.
“For sure, I’m pleased but it probably needs to be more substantial. The Wingecarribee funding was $500,000, so it’s a token gesture in that context. Nevertheless, it’s a good start.”
- Australian River Restoration Centre: arrc.com.au