The health of the Moorabool River is back under the spotlight after residents reported human faeces in its waters last month.
One local resident, who wished to remain anonymous, described how a family member discovered a plastic bag containing human excrement floating down the Moorabool River West branch of the river last month.
Others have described discovering used toilet paper and discarded babies’ nappies along the shoreline near the campsites in the area.
Reservoirs along the river are used as sources of drinking water for Ballarat and Geelong.
There is a real duty of care there, not only from the shire, and whoever the land manager is, but also the water authorities - they need to play an active role in this too.Cameron Steele, Co-ordinator of People for a Living Moorabool
A sign is currently standing near Hunts Bridge campsite saying: “This is our local swimming hole. Please have respect for our river. Stop s***ting everywhere and take home your f***cking rubbish."
Cameron Steele, who helps run the People for a Living Moorabool (PALM) group, believes the recent issue is partly the result of campsites becoming better known due to camping apps and websites such as WikiCamps.
“The spots that didn’t get a lot of traffic are getting hammered a lot more,” he told The Courier.
“It would be fair to say it’s accelerating. It’s more of a summer issue because of the camps. The camping area has tended to grow a bit in size.”
He reported one member of his group getting abused as a busybody for clearing up after illegal campers at nearby Coopers Bridge.
Local residents also report seeing lit campfires on total fire ban days.
Mr Steele and other members of PALM, which campaigns for what they describe as “the right of this magnificent, but highly stressed river, to an effective environmental flow”, want to see more action from the authorities responsible.
“[They] really need to step up and acknowledge their role,” said Mr Steele. “They have a role of stewardship over the river, and this stewardship needs to be honoured.”
“There is a real duty of care there, not only from the shire, and whoever the land manager is, but also the water authorities - they need to play an active role in this too.”
The Courier contacted several agencies to discover who was responsible for the land around Hunt’s Bridge, including Moorabool Shire, Parks Victoria, Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA).
Eventually DELWP confirmed their responsibility for the Hunts Bridge camping area, saying that it was located on Crown land. Grant Hull, DELWP Grampians regional manager, said the department would investigate the reports of pollution and littering.
Another resident, who also does not wish to be named, has contacted Lisa Neville, Victoria’s Minister for Water about the issue, writing:
“Given that you established the Living Moorabool project to help maintain life in the river and to educate people about its values, I ask that you initiate some action that would help prevent such treatment of the river.
“Signs and toilets at notable/regularly used camp sites might be a useful start.”
In 2017, the State Government announced $2.1m as part of the Living Moorabool project to restore the shoreline and increase the river’s water flow.
The investment was to be delivered by a partnership of CCMA and Barwon Water.
One report suggested the river’s summer flow had been reduced by as much as 90 per cent from its old levels, the result of over-allocation, urban storage dams, farm dams and groundwater extraction.
The river has been cited as one of the most “flow stressed” – where the flow of the river is most under pressure - in the state of Victoria, which has reportedly improved this summer.
The Moorabool River flows south from headwaters in the Wombat Forest to the east of Ballarat, and runs towards Geelong. The Moorabool west branch and the Moorabool east branch join around 10 kilometres above Meredith.
The river is home to endangered plant species, as well as numerous birds and fish species and platypus.
Environmentally aware visitors would be welcome, Mr Steele said. “We would like to get people more interested in the river. When people drive from Geelong to Ballarat, they don’t realise there is this beautiful river just in the valley beside them.”
The resident who reported the plastic bag containing faeces said: “We don’t want them [the campers] stopped. We just want them to be responsible.”
Have you signed up to The Courier's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.