Local governments across the Basin undertake a broad range of roles and responsibilities, and these encompass some involvement in environmental issues including water management, pest species management, recreational values (including recreational fishing) and protection of natural values. Where towns are close to aquatic environments, there was potential for the NFS to engage with local governments.
There were instances where connections were made between local government staff and NFS coordinators and CST members. Local government staff would seek input on environmental strategies, or specific issues such as aquatic weed management, fish passage, riparian rehabilitation and resnagging. CST members and NFS coordinators gave presentations at particular events and also provided resources such as flyers and the book Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin to local councils. The 10 Top Tips for Fish Friendly Council flyer helped create a discussion and provide a framework for local councils to be involved in the NFS. Local government staff were also involved in Native Fish Awareness week activities and occasionally attended NFS forums and workshops, particular staff developed strong relationships and ongoing interactions.
For some Demonstration Reaches, local government played an important role in their establishment and implementation, including ongoing maintenance and delivery of on-ground works. In the case of the Dewfish Demonstration Reach, local government became a great champion of the program. During Carp musters within the Ovens Demonstration Reach, the local council provided useful support in helping with Carp disposal.
Given the large number of councils across the Basin, it was impossible for NFS staff to engage directly with all individually. The level of engagement varied, and was influenced by many factors. These included the location of councils in relation to specific NFS on-ground activities, the priority placed on aquatic environments by particular councils, the level of awareness and interest of council staff of aquatic and riparian environmental issues, as well as the funds available to councils to undertake environmental works.
Case Study: The Loudoun Weir Fishway
The Loudoun Weir on the Condamine River, Dalby was long recognised as a priority barrier for fish passage, with the existing fishway requiring modification to operate effectively. The Condamine Alliance worked closely with partners, including the Western Downs Regional Council, the MDBA, Qld DAFF, engineers, local businesses and many others to modify the fishway and implement an operational plan.
In the initial stages, there was a lack of understanding by some council staff and local community as to the importance of providing fish passage at this site due to concerns regarding the cost and water usage. There was a perception that it would reduce available water to Dalby, which used it as its water supply.
It was apparent that a substantial and sustained effort in engaging with local council staff at different levels was required to make headway. Over time, strong relationships formed, with the variety of partners gaining a better understanding of each other’s concerns as well as the benefits of providing fish passage. An operational plan for the fishway was developed and worked through with broad consultation of partners.
In 2009, the new fishway was launched, opening up over 100km of river for migrating fish. The local council is now supportive of the program, with staff manually operating the structure when there are appropriate flows. The council and the local community can now actually see the benefits of this work, with fish congregating at the fishway, and fish numbers in the area increasing.