Around the world, places once used for industrial or agricultural purposes are being redeveloped in ways that make them valuable community assets and economic drivers. The Winton Wetlands Project is one of the world’s most significant environmental, social and economic renewal projects, whether measured by its environmental ambitions, its social and cultural significance, or its sheer scale.
LAKE MOKOAN AND ITS DECOMMISSIONING
The flooding of the Winton (Mokoan) Swamp in 1971 to create Lake Mokoan was broadly welcomed for the economic and recreational values that it promised. It created a very large water storage that irrigated thousands of hectares of agriculture, adding $10-$15 million to the local economy each year. It was one of the best Murray Cod and Golden Perch fisheries in Victoria. It was also used for hunting and sailing. At the same time the new reservoir inundated around 7,000 Ha of agricultural land, ancient forests and beautiful and unique wetlands. The flooding killed around 150,000 river red gums including many Aboriginal scar trees that still stand today, having re-emerged from the lake as dead stags but still retaining their scarring and their stories.
Over a run of dry years, Lake Mokoan sometimes dried out completely and at other times was subject to blue-green algal breakouts. Water managers seeking ways to save water in the Murray-Darling system noted that the large and shallow water body was losing far more water through evaporation than it contributed to agriculture, and raised the question of its decommissioning. This met with strong local opposition from irrigators and recreational users of the Lake. After a great deal of protest and community anguish, the lake was decommissioned and drained in 2010. Water that would otherwise have been stored in Lake Mokoan was diverted to achieve ecological flows for the Snowy River and other rivers.
In 2010 the Winton wetlands Committee of Management was charged with restoring and renewing the old dam site. The Committee has set about its task with gusto and has delivered a thriving site supported by multiple partners and supporters. The Committee has focussed on:
- Rebuilding ecological integrity and protecting and reintroducing threatened species
- Renewing infrastructure and amenity to rebuild local access, recreation and pride
- Creating unique and life-changing experiences for visitors
- Involving local indigenous people in the renewal project and through recognition of hundreds of indigenous cultural heritage sites
- Demonstrating how ecological and cultural regeneration can affect people’s lives and drive economic development