FARMERS swamped by choked drainage systems have been offered a ray of hope with the regional catchment management authority, Warrnambool City Council and a state inquiry calling for the situation to be addressed urgently.
The inquiry chaired by Western Victoria MP David Koch found formal drainage management had been left in an official limbo for more than 20 years after responsibility was taken away from local councils and landowner committees.
It recommended solutions which are likely to help alleviate flooding that is costing south-west farmers millions of dollars in lost income.
A key solution put forward was for a statewide drainage strategy to be established by the government in conjunction with councils, catchment management authorities and local community.
It recommends the government consider funding initial capital works to bring prioritised rural drains up to functional standard and a user-pays model for maintenance and management of drainage systems.
Moyne Shire Council mayor Jim Doukas yesterday said rural drainage had been a neglected issue since responsibility was taken from local government after a legislative change in 1989.
“It should be given back to councils who know the local scene better than any government department,” he said.
“Catchment management authorities are only interested in conservation, not the plight of farmers affected by flooding.”
Farmers in the Allansford and Yambuk districts have also criticised the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority for its lack of action.
However, water program manager Brad Henderson said catchment authorities did not have responsibility for drainage clearing.
“It is a neglected issue,” he said.
The way forward was to re-establish the former drainage scheme, where appropriate, so the system could again fulfil the role to landowners it was designed for, he said.
“We are working with government to establish a management regime for rural drainage.”
Mr Henderson said the authority had worked extensively with drainage groups to try and resurrect management arrangements.
But lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities including rating and regulation stifled progress.
The city council in its submission to the inquiry said the catchment authority was best placed to be the lead agency and that a beneficiary-pays principle was the best funding solution.
Inquiry committee members visited drainage systems near Port Fairy and Macarthur and held a public hearing in Hamilton.
The government is yet to decide on the recommendations.