Background

Lake Macquarie is the largest estuary in New South Wales. It covers some 640km² and includes three large and many smaller creek systems entering the Lake.

In addition to the wide range of recreational activities that the Lake provides for residents and visitors, it is also an important resource for local industry providing cooling water for two large coal fired power stations.

Following a period of rapid expansion and development (with a population increase from 91,962 in 1961 to the current population figure of 190,000), the early 1980's saw the start of widespread community concern regarding the deteriorating health of Lake Macquarie.

In 1983, the then State Pollution Control Commission undertook an investigation into the causes of poor water quality.  The report of this investigation known as “The Environmental Audit of Lake Macquarie” identified the causes of concern, highlighting the major problems of sedimentation and nutrient enrichment. At the time, accelerated sedimentation levels were estimated at 75,000 tonnes per annum and nutrient levels had shown a substantial increase as a result of urbanisation. There was an indication that the Lake was “in the early phase of stimulated algal growth” and the decreasing water clarity was suspected to have been caused by increased densities of phytoplankton.

In 1995, an Estuary Process Study prepared for Lake Macquarie City Council estimated that sediment loads to Lake Macquarie were 57,000 tonnes per annum, which was very different to the estimate of sediment loads prior to European development at 6,600 tonnes per annum. Two creek systems, Cockle and Dora Creeks, were estimated to be contributing 23,900 and 11,000 tonnes per annum respectively.

Following completion of the Lake Macquarie Estuary Management Plan in 1997, it was recommended that $40M would be required over a 5-year timeframe to tackle the ailing health of the Lake.  At the same time, there was widespread community concern about the continuing problem of poor water quality in the estuary.

In 1998, the then Premier of NSW, the Hon. Bob Carr, announced the formation of a Task Force under the Chairmanship of Clean-up-Australia founder, Mr Ian Kiernan.

The objectives of the Task Force were to:

  1. Review of the Lake Macquarie Estuary Management Plan and recommend a priority action plan and appropriate institutional arrangements for implementation;
  2. Review and recommend strategies that would alleviate the impact of development and urbanisation on Lake Macquarie.

The report of the Task Force, known as the ‘Integrated Estuary and Catchment Management Framework was accepted by State Cabinet in February 1999. The report recommended a unique institutional arrangement for implementation through the creation of the Office of the Lake Macquarie and Catchment Coordinator. This cooperative-based arrangement was a joint initiative of Lake Macquarie City Council, Wyong Shire Council, and the State Government, with major funding provided by these partners. To oversee the implementation process, a committee known as the Lake Macquarie Project Management Committee was appointed by the then Minister of Land and Water Conservation. The Committee consists of representatives of both councils; community; regional directors of relevant government departments and three ex-officio members.

The action plan itself had an emphasis on integration, both physically and administratively, as well as promoting a ‘whole of government’ approach and strong community involvement.

The physical works concentrated on treating the cause of the water problems in the Lake by tackling stormwater runoff within the catchment.  Again, the emphasis adopted included the use of ‘soft engineering’ and the restoration of natural ecological processes where possible.

After six years in operation, the Lake Macquarie Project Management Committee is now entering the third phase of the Project.

 

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