Pollution trading scheme could improve water quality

October 12, 2011

A Murdoch University masters student is investigating whether setting up a pollution trading scheme will help to alleviate water quality problems in the Peel-Harvey Catchment.

Ophelia Cowell said market-based approaches had been successfully used to manage water pollution in other areas of Australia and she would be working closely with the Peel Harvey Catchment Council and other groups to examine the feasibility of whether such scheme would work in the region.

The basic principles of the scheme could involve polluters purchasing credits which allow them to discharge contaminants when their effect is minimised by high volumes of rain water running through the rivers which flow into the Peel-Harvey Estuary. These credits would be brought and sold based on the need to release pollutants.

Ms Cowell suggests such an approach could reduce the risk of algal blooms and improve water quality.

“Unfortunately, environmental values are currently not being maintained in most parts of the estuary,” said Ms Cowell, who is an external student at Murdoch.

“With its sandy soils, phosphorus and other nutrients readily move into the Peel’s waterways and affect water quality.

“With significant urban expansion projected to bring 300,000 more people into the area over the next 50 years, it is absolutely vital policies are developed which begin to deal with potential increases in pollutants. A market-based approach is worth evaluating, alongside other options.

“Interestingly, the experience in other states and overseas with such approaches has been that new innovations can develop that people hadn’t considered at the outset.”

To maintain water quality to an acceptable standard, Ms Cowell said nutrient inputs would have to reduce from around 145 tonnes per year to 75 tonnes per year.

Management strategies including putting a cap on phosphorus inputs and reviewing discharge licenses as well as the construction of the Dawesville Channel had not done enough to reduce these figures, she said.

“Similar trading schemes have been implemented with success in the Hunter Valley and Hawkesbury-Nepean river systems in New South Wales as well as other jurisdictions abroad,” added Ms Cowell.

“Hopefully we can develop a model which will make a significant difference in the Peel-Harvey Estuary. I’m looking forward to working with our partners to find a workable solution.”

Jan Star, Chairman of the Peel-Harvey Catchment Council said the research was a new type of initiative.

“Our internationally recognised Ramsar-listed Peel-Harvey Estuary, the rivers that feed into it and the overall catchment, including the Lake Clifton Thrombolites, are all deteriorating,” she said.

“Any actions that can provide incentives to reduce the total amount of nutrients entering our waterway are worth exploring.”

Ms Cowell will spend the next seven months carrying out her research under the supervision of Professor Richard Harper, the Alcoa Chair in Sustainable Water Management at Murdoch University.

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Comments (2 responses)

Colin Elton October 18, 2011

Please visit our web site at http://www.forpeel.org and see what was done at Lake Macquarie in NSW by involving the community. Also see what has not been done about the impact of nutrient seepage from Septic Tanks on the Peel-Harvey system and the reluctance of the Water Corp and various Ministers to address this issue.
Out of date drainage regulations see the 72 hour rule condition on the Water Corp Drainage License.These can all be addressed now if the various agencies would work together.
A polluters tax may work later but these are issues that need to be fixed now.

Paddy Strano May 25, 2012

Interested to know if the Ms Cowell has completed her study and if it is publicly available.Some interesting possibilities.

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