First published with The Courier – https://www.thecourier.com.au/story/5429510/from-sewer-to-utilised-space-neglected-yarrowee-river-regains-a-brighter-life/?cs=62
Once a neglected river, the Yarrowee is on a track of transformation to become a valued outdoor community space with rich biodiversity.
Million dollar revitalisation project Breathing Life Back into the Yarrowee has turned around the river’s long history of abuse and degradation, once treated as a sewer for industrial waste.
Now many are enjoying the benefits of the Yarrowee Trail, and beginning conversations about creating a visible presence of the river throughout the CBD.
THE PROJECT BREAKDOWN
Breathing Life Back into the Yarrowee began in 2013 with $1 million state government funding invested over four years.
Corangamite Catchment Management Authority and major partners City of Ballarat and Leigh Catchment Group delivered waterway and amenity improvement works.
Work included the completion of sections of walking track, a visitor car park, artificial ponds in the Brown Hill Wetland, installation of a gross pollutant litter trap, a retaining wall to manage bank erosion, removal of weeds, tree planting and maintenance.
City of Ballarat director infrastructure and environment Terry Demeo said the project aimed to create an understanding of the Yarrowee as an asset for Ballarat.
“We have the lake precinct and taken advantage of that water body, but there hadn’t been significant investment for a period of time in the Yarrowee in terms of trails, and seating. Taking some of the rubbish out of the waterway was a big part of the project,” he said.
“The river used to be inaccessible in a lot of areas. The tracks were self made. We have surfaced a lot of that area and removed a lot of weed cleaning up the environment through the project. One of the big ticket items was a gross pollutant trap.
“The southern end of the river around Sebastopol has probably been the most visibly changed, where the waterway has been opened up.”
COMMUNITY TAKES OWNERSHIP OF SPACE
Leigh Catchment Group environmental projects officer Jane Bevelander managed the community engagement aspect of the Yarrowee project throughout the last year.
The group took an innovative approach to connect people with the Yarrowee in an effort to create a sense of community ownership.
It ran walks and talks, bike tours, science experiments, bus tours of catchments, tree planting and water quality testing with interested members of the community.
More than 100 people attended a tree planting session as part of National Tree Day, getting 600 plants in the ground.
“Research has shown if people are engaged with local nature they are more likely to appreciate it, look after it, and not litter,” Ms Bevelander said.
“We did surveys before and after the project. When asked if people use the river and the parklands it was about 35 per cent in the first year and jumped to about 50 per cent at the end of the project. It showed people were more concerned about the biodiversity at the end too because they had been to planting days and walks and talks.”
Community engagement events also helped to reinvigorated the Friends of the Yarrowee, a group of community members who volunteer their time working on planting and maintenance.
The group held planting and maintenance days throughout the project and aims to continue to work on maintenance and litter reduction in coming years.
Friends of the Yarrowee president Neil Huybregts said the working bees held during the project helped strengthen and revitalise the group which had been on and off since the 1980s.
Many people have a very strong sense of attachment to the river and are passionate about wanting to make it healthier.
“If this was managed well with a little more support from council we could achieve great things and be done at almost no cost. The river is fantastic now, but I think we can do better. What really needs to be addressed is erosion.”
The Redan, Mount Pleasant and Sebastopol area of the river was a focus area for weed removal and indigenous planting.
Ms Bevelander pointed out a section along the Yarrowee in Mount Pleasant which was once covered in blackberry and weeds, now covered with indigenous plants. She said indigenous plants would improve biodiversity. “With indigenous plants comes the local fauna as well; birds, reptiles, plants, water bugs.”
Maintenance work is a big task, with the river stretching 43 kilometres from Gong Gong to Cambrian Hill. It will continue with the support of City of Ballarat and volunteer working bees.
Redan resident Col Palmer is passionate about reducing the amount of litter entering the waterway. He runs Clean Up Australia Day events in an effort to improve community awareness and remove litter.
“Everything that goes into that creek ends up in the ocean. This should be our problem,” he said.
Ms Bevelander explained litter dumped anywhere in the catchment area is washed into the storm water system and straight into the river, which then flows on to the Leigh River, the Barwon River and then the ocean.
VISION FOR CBD PRESENCE
Many who don’t know about the Yarrowee wouldn’t be aware the river runs underground through the city. Many have a vision for the Yarrowee to have a visible presence in the CBD.
City of Ballarat director infrastructure and environment Terry Demeo said the idea of a water body as a feature in a central area of the CBD has been raised in the Bakery Hill masterplan.
“The idea of a reservoir or some damming of the Yarrowee to form a water body within the central area and be a feature is certainly a concept that has been floated. There is a long way to go, but it is an idea,” he said.
We should be making the most of rather than hiding it.
FUTURE OF THE YARROWEE
Despite a vision for the river to be visible in the CBD, Mr Demeo admits council is more likely to secure funding for environmental work.
The Yarrowee has been identified as a priority as part of the region’s integrated water management plan, meaning work will continue to improve the waterbody’s health in coming years.
Ms Bevelander said the influx of funding for Breathing Life Back into the Yarrrowee had also been a booster to continue work beyond the project’s completion.
“Million dollars seems like a lot, but there are plenty of areas that could use work. Working on waterways is a bit of a patchwork game,” she said. The Leigh Catchment Group will continue to push for funding.
“The Yarrowee River is in many ways our undiscovered, iconic asset,” Mr Demeo said. “I would love it in the long term if when we speak of Lake Wendouree, which is the heart and soul of Ballarat, the Yarrowee could be a second cousin, recognised as something that delivers a great aesthetic value to the city.”