Bay monitor bows out with tick for water

IN ONE of the last acts by the body set up to monitor the environmental impact of dredging in Port Phillip Bay, it has given the waterway a clean bill of health.

IN ONE of the last acts by the body set up to monitor the environmental impact of dredging in Port Phillip Bay, it has given the waterway a clean bill of health.

The Office of the Environmental Monitor which is to be closed in June said that after the massive channel deepening project of 2008 and 2009, Port Phillip has retained high water quality when compared with 10 years ago.

In its fourth and final annual review of bay health, the office also said that while it was clear large storms caused localised declines in bay water quality through increased runoff mainly from the Yarra River these effects were short term with no lasting damage.

On several days this summer some bay beaches were closed to swimmers by the Environment Protection Authority when they recorded high bacterial levels after heavy rain.

Today all beaches are rated good or fair for swimming.

In its bay review released yesterday, the OEM said the conditions of the dredging project's environmental monitoring plan were met during 2011 and changes associated with the project had met expected levels.

The OEM has rejected claims that recent beach erosion most notably at Portsea is the result of dredging.

In other findings it said a decline in sandy flathead fish in the bay had begun in the 1960s and was not the result of the dredging of 2008-09. It said the bay dredging project has resulted in a permanent one centimetre change in tide levels.

Victorian Environment Minister Ryan Smith said in a statement that the authority had analysed more than 600 monitoring reports to determine the bay was in good health.

"The OEM receives reports on everything from nutrient levels, the seagrass growth, water quality, bacteria levels and fish stocks so it is in a unique position to keep Victorians informed about how the bay environment is travelling," Mr Smith said.

He said he had asked his department and the authority to take steps to address the poor water quality in the Yarra River affecting the bay.

President of the Blue Wedges Coalition, which campaigned strongly against the dredging, Jenny Warfe, dismissed the report and said the OEM had failed to properly explain the massive erosion at Portsea beach. She added that, at the least, there needed to be better monitoring for leakage of millions of tonnes of "toxic" sediment from the Yarra mouth now in the middle of the bay.

Environment Victoria chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy said there needed to be better and ongoing monitoring of the bay and identification of who was responsible for its health.

The OEM monitoring was set up in 2007 by the former state Labor government in response to community concern about the impact of the dredging project.

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