Managing the balance of estuaries
Published: 16 June 2022

Over the past week, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA) has coordinated artificial openings of Bourne Creek and Powlett River estuaries that naturally closed in February this year.

The decision to artificially open these estuaries was the result of extensive monitoring and a thorough risk and feasibility assessment process involving WGCMA, Parks Victoria, Regional Roads Victoria, and Bass Coast Shire Council.

WGCMA CEO Martin Fuller said: “It’s a careful balance. Estuary closures are natural events that provide many environmental benefits. However, they also pose risks to surrounding assets by inundating farmland, cultural assets, roads and recreational infrastructure. 

“Estuary closures are beneficial to birds, fish and the surrounding saltmarsh and wetlands. These species are adapted to closure events and rely on the inundation that occurs during closure periods.”

“It is the WGCMA’s role to consider all of these risks – environmental, social, cultural and economic – when considering and approving an artificial opening. Ultimately, we are committed to supporting the environmental benefits of natural water cycles and improving the condition of these valuable estuaries in the long term,” said Mr Fuller.

The WGCMA is responsible for monitoring the closure conditions, carrying out the risk assessment and making the decision whether to artificially open the estuary or not.

An Estuary Entrance Management Support System is used to help evaluate the risks and plan the optimal timing of opening an estuary based on all factors.

Regular monitoring of water quality and level, along with river flow and estuary mouth conditions, also informs the risk assessment and decision making.

If an artificial opening is needed, a feasibility assessment is undertaken to make sure water quality, river flows and ocean conditions will provide ideal conditions for a safe and sustained opening.

Parks Victoria undertakes the artificial openings of the Powlett River and Bourne Creek estuaries, if required and it is safe to do so, under WGCMA guidance.

Bass Coast Shire Council coordinates traffic management along the Mouth of Powlett Road and landholder access to the eastern side of the bridge. Regional Roads Victoria manages the Bass Highway that is at risk of inundation from Bourne Creek.

There is more information available on the Powlett River Estuary here.