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New Information on Logging of Melbourne's Water Supply

Mar 07: F.S.C. Watch article

Feb 07: Is F.S.C. losing its credibility?

Reflex Copy Paper gains Forest Stewardship Council Mixed Sources Certification in July 06, but the certification totally ignores the native forest sources that are currently feeding the Maryale Pulp Mill.

Oct 06: 4 Corners exposes The A-Team


Most of the Gazetted water supplies in the Gippsland region (outside of the Strzeleckis). Yellow indicates hardwood native forest coupes 1995-2001, mostly located in regional water supply catchments including Tanjil River, Tyers River and Tarago River. Note also the heavy intensity of logging in Melbourne's Thomson catchment. (Purple indicates softwood plantations owned by Gippsland Water, Brown indicates softwood plantations leased by Grand Ridge Plantations and Gold in the lower catchment of the Tanjil and Tyers Rivers indicates hardwood plantations owned by Grand Ridge Plantations.

The Gazetted water supplies in the Strzelecki Ranges. Yellow indicates hardwood plantations managed by Grand Ridge Plantations, and the brown indicates pine plantations managed by Grand Ridge Plantations. After logging Grand Ridge Plantations sprays their plantations with a concoction of different herbicides including; Clopyralid (pines and euc), Glufosinate ammonium (pine), Glyphosate (pines and euc), Haloxyfop Methyl (euc), Hexazinone (pines), Metsulfuron Methyl (pines and euc), Sulfometuron Methyl (euc). What impact do these herbicides have on the quality of drinking water? 65% of the Maryvale mill supply is sourced from plantations managed by Grand Ridge Plantations.

Dry City counts costs of logging - Sunday Age p1 21/1/07 Peter Weekes Environment

Melbourne is losing out on a million litres of drinking water every year from continued logging in the city's main catchment area. And it comes at a cost to the taxpayer of at least $147 million - the difference between the royalties paid by the logging industry to the State Government and the value of the lost water, according to economic consultants commissioned by Melbourne Water.

As the city heads towards stringent stage 4 restrictions, a host of scientific studies indicate the Thomson dam, which supplies about 60 per cent of Melbourne's water, is losing up to half the potential run-off in the highest rainfall area owing to effects of logging.

"It's a big effect, it's not tiny," said Associate Professor Brian Finlayson, director of the Centre for Environmental Applied Hydrology.

It is estimated that if logging was stopped, water yields in the catchment would increase by 20,000 megalitres within two decades.

Despite the existence of studies dating to the 1950s, in 2004 the Bracks Government decided to conduct more research into the reduced water yields caused by logging. It is scheduled to be completed in May 2008.

All the scientists spoken to by The Sunday Age questioned the need for further studies, saying the numerous existing reports, many of which were commissioned by the Kennett and Bracks governments and on which this article is based, were sufficient.

The Government is also planning to bring forward the 2010 deadline to reconnect the Tarago Reservoir to increase Melbourne's supply by 21,000 megalitres. It was decommissioned by the Kennett government because of problems with water quality and requires a new treatment plant costing $70 million.

The Government is also conducting a feasibility study into having a desalinisation plant online by 2015, which it conceded would cost more than $1 billion and require huge amounts of energy from carbon-emitting brown coal.

The Thomson, the largest of Melbourne's four water catchments, is the only one where logging is permitted. Logging in the 49,000-hectare catchment took place before the dam was built by the Bolte government to "drought proof" Melbourne.

Loggers are drawn by prized mountain ash, alpine ash and shining gum species. These trees are found in a third of the catchment area along the Mount Baw Baw escarpment, where most of the logging coupes are, and as the map shows, where about two-thrids of the rain in the region falls.

Physical research and theoretical modelling of the Thomson catchment shows that once an area has been logged there is an immediate increase in the water yield because there is little vegetation to draw up the rainfall. But once these water-guzzling species start to regrow, the amount of water they take from the soil doubles, cutting run-off by half, according to research by Australian hydrology expert Dr Fred Watson, an assistant professor of science and environmental policy at California State University.

"The place where you get the most wood is the same place you are going to get the most impact on water yield because they are using the most water to produce that wood," he said.

Water yields do not return to pre-logging levels for more than 150 years, Dr Watson said.

The time between the logging of coupes was also crucial to water yields. Favoured coupes in the Thomson are logged every 60 years, by which time the water yield is still about 25 per cent lower than at pre-logging. "Rotating every 60 years is trhe worst thing you can do from a water yield impact," Dr Watson said.

A Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman said the Government's new study would use an updated model for determining water yields, examine timber substitution and look at economic, social and environmental issues involved in logging in the Thomson. "Using the latest modelling for hydrological studies (the Macaque model) will produce more accurate and far more useful results, as previous models had wide margins of error," the spokesman said.

However, Dr Watson, who developed the Macaque model, said when he applied it to the Thomson it didn't produce fundamentally different results from the previous "Kuczera curve" model. "Any improvements to the model you make will still give you a situation where over the first few decades after logging there will be a big decline in water yield and than over the next 100 or so years it will slowly recover." he said.

Water Vs Timber

The Thompson was opened by Premier Bolte after the 1967 drought, who said it would "drought proof" Melbourne. As logging was already happening in the catchment area, it was allowed to continue. It is estaimated that logging has cost the Thompson 20,000,000,000 litres of water over the past two decades, the equivalent of 47 MCGs filled to the top of the grandstand.

Image Above: Maryvale mill from the air looking south - in close proximity to Latrobe River. Dioxins enter the river from discharge points to the left of the image.

Gippsland Water/Maryvale Mill water use
Outfall Issues/Dioxin Discharge Rates
Reflex Copy Paper's main native forest woodchip source 1995-2003
Water Quantity
Domestic Water Supply Catchments
Water Quality
Domestic Water Supplies and Plantations
EPA AUDIT Findings - State Forest Water Catchments that Supply Water to Melbourne

Gippsland Water/Maryvale Mill water use

According to Gippsland Water 70% of water supplied and 75% of wastewater collected is from 6 customers. Revenue from these six customers, for these services represents approximately 30% of the 2003/4 revenue base.

40% of water supplied by Gippsland Water is consumed by Australian Paper at the PaperlinX owned Maryvale Pulp Mill. 52% of all untreated water supplied by Gippsland Water is consumed by Australian Paper at the PaperlinX owned Maryvale pulp mill. Water for the mill is sourced from the Tyers River fed Moondarra Reservoir.

Southern Rural Water source from Blue Rock Dam, Gippsland Water source from Moondarra Reservoir. According to Southern Rural Water: "The Latrobe Valley electricity generating companies are able to extract 150,000 ML/a of yield of Blue Rock Dam from the Latrobe River, for use as cooling water in existing power stations and for future power generation expansion. Gippsland Water, which is the urban water authority for the Latrobe Valley, is able to draw 20,000 ML/d to augment the present output from Moondarra Reservoir. Gippsland Water can also pump water from the Tanjil River to the township of Moe."

Water (G.L.* per annum)
Saline Waste Outfall Pipeline
Australian Paper#
Energy Brix Australia
Yallourn Energy
Loy Yang Power
Edison Mission

*G.L.stands for Gigalitre. One Gigalitre = 1000 Megalitres. One Megalitre= One million litres. Therefore Australian Paper (Maryvale) uses 22,000,000,000 litres of water per year. (One Gigalitre = 444 Olympic sized swimming pools, meaning that Australian Paper (Maryvale) uses enough water in one year to fill 9768 Olympic sized swimming pools).

Note # Australian Paper discharges to Regional Outfall Sewer

Source: Gippsland Water - Gippsland Water's Water Plan. 2004

Maryvale pulp mill currently uses 60 ML of water per day which is supplied from Moondarra Reservoir under a licence from Gippsland Water. There is also alot of logging occurring in this catchment at the present time. The bleach plant at the mill uses 9ML/day with Organochlorine emissions of 1.4Kg/tonne of bleached pulp. AOX discharges measures at end of ocean outfall are now approximately 28 tonnes a year.

Reflex Copy Paper's main native forest woodchip source 1995-2003

To get an idea of the scale of the paper industry in Victoria and the water catchments it operates in, please click on the following map which will provide details of the Logging Concession Zone which has been granted to Paperlinx (APM, Amcor) since the early 1960's.

click here for map

Above: Melbourne's water supply

Water Quantity

The production of Australian Paper by PaperlinX places huge stresses on our water resources. From the water needed to grow trees, through to the industrial processes in the paper production cycle, paper making can be a very thirsty business.

Many of the tree growing areas used to make Reflex copy paper lie in the highest rainfall areas of the state. The Ash species required for fine paper manufacturing often grow in higher elevation areas that on average receive 1200mm of rainfall per year. Recent research has concluded that one hectare of regrowing trees within this rainfall area will consume about 9+ Mega Litres*(ML) of water per year as they grow, with water consumption slowing down slightly after 30 - 40 years and reaching 'equilibrium' after 150 years. Therefore the worst thing a company could be doing in regards to water yield is to log old growth forests and converting them into very young and thirsty regrowth. (*Megalitre = 1 million litres).

Most of the trees grown for cardboard boxes etc and not fine paper, are mixed species forests which grow in lower rainfall areas (700mm - 900mm per year). Even so, these forests will probably consume between 6 -7 ML per hectare, per year, after they have been logged and converted into very young regrowth forests. Many thousands of hectares of native forests are being cleared each year for paper production in Australia. Companies logging these trees do not pay for the loss in water yield that such logging creates.

Trees grown in plantations will actually use slightly more water per hectare than native forests, although not all of the plantations that PaperlinX use lie in the 1200 mm rainfall area. Some plantations that the company sources from do lie in this high rainfall area - eg some of the Strzeleckis, but generally many of the plantations that PaperlinX consume lie in rainfall of areas of between 600mm to 900mm and are located primarily in the Central Gippsland region of Victoria.

Typical Strzelecki Logging road. Much of this sediment will end up in Gippsland Lakes.

Domestic Water Supply Catchments

Unfortunately for PaperlinX, some of the best tree growing areas that they source from lie in the catchments that provide drinking water to the metropolis of Melbourne and towns in the Gippsland region.

Studies have concluded that logging in the Thomson Catchment for instance, probably denies the city of Melbourne with many millions of dollars worth of drinking water per year. Click here for further details of reduction in water yield and a general map of the drinking water catchments that supply the 3 million people of Melbourne with drinking water. Click here for more information about this topic.

Regional towns in Gippsland are also under pressure from logging inside their domestic water catchment in both native forests and plantations to feed the demands of the PaperlinX Maryvale pulp mill.

This map provides information about domestic water supply catchments in the Gippsland region. Not only does PaperlinX operate in Melbourne's drinking water catchments but also the following designated catchments in Gippsland : Tanjil River, Tyers River, Deep Creek & Loch River, Merrimans Creek, Tarra River, Billy's Creek, Narracan Creek, Mirboo North, Agnes River, Deep Creek, Glenmaggie and Tarwin River.

These catchments supply the following Gippsland towns with drinking water; Agnes, Alberton, Bennison, Boolara, Buln Buln, Churchill, Coongulla, Cowwarr, Darnum, Erica, Glenmaggie, Hedley, Heyfield, Mirboo North, Maffra, Meeniyan, Moe, Morwell, Neerim South, Newborough, Nilma, Noojee, Port Albert, Port Franklin, Port Welshpool, Rawson, Rokeby, Rosedale, Seaspray, Stratford, Thorpdale, Toongabbie, Toora, Trafalgar, Traralgon, Warragul, Welshpool, Willow Grove,Yallourn North, Yarragon, Yarram and Yinnar. Click here for further details about Gippsland Water.

It should also be pointed out that PaperlinX also get logs from the high rainfall areas of the Upper Goulburn catchment whose catchment feeds into Lake Eildon. Click here for a water catchment map of the Upper Goulburn.

Eroding log road and batter - Strzelecki Ranges

Water Quality

Logging in water catchments of plantations and native forests can reduce water quality. Logging operations can generate large volumes of sediment which can end up in creeks and streams draining forested areas. This increase in turbidity can mean that water quality controls - including chemicals - have to be implemented by water authorities in order to settle sediment. Generally speaking water quality from logging operations is supposed to be protected by the Code of Forest Practices which insists on buffer zones and filter strips on drainage lines and waterways lieing inside forest areas. However very often these buffers are inadequate in the case of a heavy rainfall event.

For more information on impacts of sediment on local fisheries please click here.

Many of the soils that underlie native forests and plantations within the PaperlinX concession zone are highly erodable. For instance the Strzelecki Ranges is dominated by Cretaceous Sediments which are very dispersive, especially after rainfall events. Intensive forests and thse soil types do not mix well together!

The largest contributor to sediment entering waterways is logging roads and creek crossings. The more the road is used the more pressure that is placed on drainage and creek crossings. If roading is substandard, then very likely water quality will suffer. Logging on private land and the quality of roads and creek crossings, can be very problematic due to much slacker logging enforcement by local government authorities who have the responsibility of monitoring private land logging

Logging of plantations is also a big problem for water quality. Many plantations were established without proper establishment of buffers on streams and drainage lines. As a result, when the plantation is logged there is very little vegetation to protect the waterways from the impact of sediments and chemicals that are used widely in the plantation industry. The authority with responsibility over water quality in Gippsland - Gippsland Water - actually owns vast pine plantations located in the main drinking water reservoir catchment in Central Gippsland: Moondarra Reservoir. It is bizarre that you are not allowed to walk in this reservoir catchment, but pine plantations can be established using heavy machinery with associated biocides. For more information on Moondarra see here.

Billy's Creek domestic water supply catchment. Northern Strzelecki Ranges

The use of fertilisers and chemicals in the plantation industry is a very big worry. Fertilisers are used to enhance plantation tree growth and can be contaminated with heavy metals. Pesticides are used to kill native vegetation and weeds that emerge after the plantation has been cleared. Spraying is usually carried out by helicopter. Only 25 years ago the herbicide of choice in plantation forestry was 245-T. That particular chemical was banned for use in pine plantations by the State Government in the late 1970's. Chemicals generally used by the plantation industry include: Hexazinone, Clopyralid, RoundUp, Metsulfuron Methyl and Simazine. Testing of these chemicals under Australian conditions is largely unknown. Testing of waterways draining plantations is also rarely carried out.

Below Jeeralang West Road (Strzelecki Ranges). Herbicide application, April 2001. Are local residents and users of downstream water properly advised of spraying regimes in plantations? Herbicides most used in Gippsland include Simazine & Hexazinone (known groundwater pollutants). For more info. about herbicides used in plantation forestry go to:

Domestic Water Supplies and Plantations

The following towns in Gippsland have plantations located in their Domestic Water Supply Catchments. It should also be pointed out that Gippsland Water own large pine plantations in the Moondarra Reservoir Catchment. Pine chips from these plantations will also end up at Maryvale Pulp Mill.

Click on the LEGL number to get more details about the plantation in question. This information has kindly been provided by the website Hancock Watch. (Hancock control all of the plantations that were owned by the State Government of Victoria and Australian Paper Plantations).

Also see EPA report on problems associated with the Tyers River catchment below;

EPA publish report on Tyers River Catchment

In PDF form (get acrobat reader here)

Part I

Part II

March 04: Pine plantations in very close proximity to Moondarra Reservoir in Central Gippsland. What will the impact of logging and spraying of these plantations be on the quality of water in this resevoir that supplies drinking water to people in Central Gippsland?

Thomson catchment (above) April 2001: Note clearfells in Melbourne's water supply.

Tarago catchment (above) April 2001: Note clearfells.






6.1 Background

There are a number of formal and informal limits regarding timber harvesting in state water catchments that supply water to Melbourne. The audit has assessed the annual area harvested (2003-04) in the Thomson, Yarra Tributaries and Tarago supply catchments against the auditor’s understanding of rates established by DSE and Melbourne Water. These limits have been applied to the catchments to minimise the impact of long-term water yields. Section 4.4.4 discusses water yield protection at a coupe level. The Code compliance score for relevant coupes has taken account of this review of harvesting rates within catchments supplying water to Melbourne. The Bunyip catchment has not been included in this audit as it is currently offline and it is understood that Melbourne Water has no immediate plans to use it as part of the water supply network.

The only harvesting limit that is formally agreed between DSE and Melbourne Water is for the Thomson catchment. The initial agreement for the Thomson catchment set a level for annual harvest rates over a 15-year period from 1987 to 2002, with continuation beyond 2002 at the previously agreed rate. This agreement was finalised in 1996. Melbourne Water considers this limit to be 150ha per annum, whilst DSE considers the limit to be 150ha of ash species and 15ha of mixed species per annum. It is understood that this discrepancy will be resolved in ‘Our Water Our Future’.

No single document exists that contains the Thomson agreement. The Thomson levels were also reflected in the Central Highlands Forest Management Plan published in 1998. This states that ‘harvesting of ash-eucalypt forest within the catchment will be restricted to an average of 150ha per year for the period 1987 to 2002’.

The limits for Thomson and Tarago are detailed in the Central Gippsland – Estimate of Sawlog Resource (March 2002). The Central Gippsland Estimate of Sawlog Resource (ESR) states that ‘…a harvesting limit of 150ha per year of ash type forest is applied [in the Thomson catchment]’. The Central Gippsland ESR states that ‘…a limit of 782ha per ten years is proposed [in the Tarago catchment]. This will enable 50ha per year of ash to be harvested and 28ha of mixed species while minimising impacts on water yield’. There were no limits established by DSE prior to 2002 for the Tarago catchment.

As part of the Victorian government’s ‘Our Forests Our Future’ policy, new resource estimates were prepared in 2002. It is understood that actions from ‘Our Water Our Future’ will be in the future establish mechanisms by which harvesting arrangements and agreements between DSE and Melbourne Water for all catchments will be established and formalised.

Table 14 summarises the auditor’s understanding of the established harvesting limits.


Ash Type forests (ha)
Mixed Species (ha)
Total (ha)
Thomson (a)
Melbourne Water
Tarago (b)
Yarra Tributaries (c)

(a) Assumed annual limit (post-2002); original agreement for the period 1987 to 2002

(b) Limit per 10 years (post-2002); no limit prior to 2002

(c) Averaged over 10 years (post 2002); no limit prior to 2002

The current limits do not stipulate whether the limits relate to a strict maximum limit per year or an average over a specific time frame. It is the auditor’s understanding that the Tarago and Yarra Tributaries limits are informally based on annual limit with some flexibility in any specific year, provided that exceedances are balanced out over previous or succeeding years. The Thomson agreement is understood to be an annual limit.

6.2 Assessment against agreements

The review of harvesting in catchments supplying water to Melbourne has assessed catchment area and harvesting data provided by both Melbourne Water and DSE. The method used to measure the harvesting areas and total catchment area is detailed in Appendix J.

The total harvested areas in catchments supplying water to Melbourne are presented in Table 15. The harvested areas detailed by forest type are provided in Appendix J.

In order to determine if the harvested area in 2003-04 was in line with the agreements, the harvesting history was assessed to determine how much had been harvested to date. Annual harvest data supplied by DSE to Melbourne Water were also reviewed.

Table 15: Total harvested areas in catchments supplying water to Melbourne (ha)

Catchment Thomson Tarago Yarra Tributaries
123 (119)
37 (33)
42 (42)
127 (116)
54 (20)
24 (24)
111 (103)
127 (81)
0 (0)
112 (96)
101 (58)
86 (82)
111 (111)
84 (54)
122 (79)
108 (108)
119 (105)
157 (147)
77 (23)
96 (60)
74 (74)
155 (149)
119 (119)
116 (116)
163 (147)
54 (54)
72 (72)
175 (165)
113 (113)
34 (34)
266 (261)
87 (87)
31 (31)
235 (190)
69 (65)
22 (22)
108 (108)
35 (29)
128 (128)
80 (80)
16 (16)
91 (91)
199 (190)
26 (26)
7 (5)
269 (268)
44 (44)
29 (29)
not available
not available
not available
not available
not available
not available

Ash harvest areas are noted in grey text in brackets. Some differ from total harvest areas, e.g. Thomson 2003-04 =127 ha (116ha ash). *Data taken from EPA Environmental Audit 2006.

Averages 1989 - 2005 (Information Collated by Friends of the Earth)

Thomson 2419 ha all species 151.2 ha average all species per year 2234 ha ash 139.6 ha ash per year
Tarago 1181 ha all species 73.8 ha average all species per year 964 ha ash 60.25 ha ash per year
Yarra Tributaries 1035 ha all species 64.7 ha average all species per year 976 ha ash 61 ha ash per year

6.2.1 Thomson

For the 1987 to 2002 agreement period Table 15 shows that the annual limit was exceeded in 1989-90, 1990-91 and the four year period from 1993-94 to 1997-98.

The total harvested area over the 15-year period cannot be assessed due to lack of data in 1987-88 and 1988-89.

The average over the 13-year period is 153ha. The data show for the six-year period since 1998-99 harvesting has been within the 150ha annual limit.

6.2.2 Tarago

The Tarago limit is 78ha per year averaged over ten years from 2002 onwards (50ha ash and 28ha mixed species).

There was no nominated limit for the period prior to 2002.

The review shows that from 2001-2002 to 2003-04, a total of 282 ha has been harvested, comprising 159ha of ash and 123 ha of mixed species.

This indicates that average harvest rates for the remaining period to 2012 will need to be limited to an average total of 71ha per year (49ha ash and 22ha mixed) to comply with the limits.

6.2.3 Yarra Tributaries

The Yarra Tributaries limit is 67ha per year averaged over ten years from 2002 onwards, comprising 52ha per year of ash and 15ha per year of mixed species. There was no nominated limit for the period prior to 2002.

The review shows that from 2001-02 to 2003-04, a total of 110ha has been harvested, comprising 106ha of ash and four ha of mixed species. The harvest rates in the Yarra Tributaries catchment are currently within the nominated limits established by DSE.

6.3 Conclusions

The audit has been able to reach broad conclusion regarding the level of compliance relating to harvesting within catchments supplying water to Melbourne.

The audit has shown that:

*harvesting in the Thomson catchment has been compliant with the agreement limit over the past six years, although exceedances occurred over most of the years between 1989-90 to 1997-98.

*harvesting rates will need to be reduced in the Tarago catchment over the remainder of the ten year period to ensure compliance with nominated limits established by DSE.

*harvest rates in the Yarra Tributaries catchment are currently within the nominated limits established by DSE.

RECOMMENDATION 26 – Reduce harvest rates in the Tarago catchment. Harvest rates will need to be reduced in the Tarago catchment over the remainder of the 10-year period to ensure compliance with the nominated limits established by DSE.