Providing opportunities for connection: Ballyroggan (Lake Brewster) weir pool and inflow wetland
Authors: Joanne Lenehan (Flow-MER and DPE), Eddie Vagg and Cherylee Kirby.
Banner Image: Pelican colony on the water at Ballyroggan (Lake Brewster). Photo credit: Mal Carnegie, Lake Cowal Foundation and DPE EHG.
The authors acknowledge the invaluable contribution of Lachlan locals, Adam Kerezsy, Warren Chad and Mal Carnegie, without who, there would have been no Waterwatch program.
Those of us that work in this field are privileged to experience many of the Lachlan’s unique wetlands. In the big wet and the long dry – and with the coming and going of all seasons. And we’ve all heard of visitors flocking to some local attraction that people who have lived in the town all their lives have never been to. Sometimes ‘those people’ are even us.
In this case study, we explore how the Lachlan Flow-MER funded Waterwatch program, delivered by Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) environmental water managers, provided the motive, means and opportunity for two local participants to reconnect with one of Australia’s nationally significant wetland systems – Lake Ballyroggan (Lake Brewster).
In 2021–22, Eddie Vagg and Cherylee Kirby of the Lake Cargelligo‒Murrin Bridge Waterwatch team assisted in monitoring the Australian pelican breeding event during spring and summer (November 2021, February 2022). The team was also there to monitor blue-green algal blooms, dissolved oxygen levels, and turbidity. This was a priority for informing WaterNSW and NSW DPE‒Water management of the storage for downstream users and risks of hypoxic dissolved oxygen for native fish.
Environmental water managers were able to involve the dedicated Waterwatch community participants into the monitoring of the Australian pelican breeding colony in spring-summer 2021. This was undoubtedly the highlight for the Lake Cargelligo‒Murrin Bridge team.
The program extended to the Brewster weir pool for olive perchlet.
Whilst taking spot measurements, it became apparent that there was a reasonably-sized waterbird breeding colony in amongst the trees, which included a range of different species.
Thus, on 14 February 2022, the team swapped their probes for binoculars and different datasheets. Under the guidance of DPE‒Environment and Heritage (EHG) staff and waterbird experts, they learnt to identify several species of waterbirds, their breeding colours and plumage, and how to conduct a colony nest count and complete the habitat assessment records.
Lake Ballyroggan is about halfway (approximately 50 km) between Lake Cargelligo and Hillston, in the Lachlan River catchment.
It was originally a natural ephemeral wetland. It was developed in the 1950s into a secondary storage to re-regulate the delivery of water to the lower Lachlan. This is when the name changed to Lake Brewster storage. More recently, work has been undertaken to restore wetland habitats in the lake, including through the use of water for the environment. It is an important refuge and supports a high diversity of wildlife, especially waterbirds, including threatened species. It is also an key site for the Australian pelican. It is one of the few sites in the Murray-Darling Basin where pelicans breed in large numbers (more than 5,000 nests) on a semi-regular basis.
The weir pool above the Lake Ballyroggan wetland inlet channel and Mountain Creek, which reconnects the wetland to the Lachlan River further downstream, is critical habitat for the only known population of olive perchlet (Ambassis agassizii) in the southern Murray-Darling Basin.
In the drafting of this article, Eddie Vagg shared his thoughts on where the name ‘Ballyroggan’ comes from.
“Ballyroggan has and interesting historical past and it seems someone, perhaps an Irish Settler saw a liking to this ephemeral lake to a similar ephemeral lake in his home county of Down in Ireland which was called
Which in Irish means Ballyroggan, marooned lake or an ephemeral lake.
Just a supposition that our Lake Ballyroggan was named by someone this way. I reinforce this supposition with this item out of place names in Ireland.
The suffix -loughmaroony, which appears in the spelling Ballyrogganloughmaroony in 1675, no doubt refers to a lake which has since been marooned, dried up or been drained; this must have been beyond the current townland boundary as Ballyrrogan is mainly hilly ground. A possibility is Kiltonga Lake in the neighbouring townland of Milecross.
The once ephemeral lake halfway between Lake Cargelligo and Hillston was converted in 1950 by an incisive channel from the Lachlan River to make it a permanent lake and water storage for State Water. The channel was opened by some rooster called Brewster who wanted to immortalise his name for whatever fame.
The government officials call it Brewster but the locals still call it Ballyroggan.”
The program continues to produce ‘local champions’ for use of environmental water in in the region. For Eddie Vagg, the task to collect water quality samples for blue green algae and dissolved oxygen levels for fish also led to learning how to conduct waterbird colony counts. It also gave him the chance to re-live memories of sailing a skip across Ballyroggan before it became restricted access as a water storage. Eddie Vagg is also a respected bush poet affiliated with the bush poet group, the Back Block Bards. He wrote several pieces for the local newspaper based on his Waterwatch experiences, including the following about his experience with Mal Carnegie of the Lake Cowal Foundation.
I watch a scene over his shoulder on the drone screen.
We are way out west where the pelican builds his nest.
The wetland warrior searches from seclusion. Without intrusion. Is 3 kilometres away, From the nesting Bay skills honed, controls as he extolls the genius of his Chinese drone.
With nimble fingers he homes in on the nesting island, focuses the camera on chicks and clicks.
Pushes back into a headwind fair before power runs out. Pucks the drone out of the air.
The low-power light is flashing.
Mission successful .
So close to crashing.
Just another day in his ongoing survey.
Back to earth, hides in the bushes, focus his camera on water rushes swirling from the floodgates where the fishing bird operates.
The smart birds know where the fish go.
The Warrior, stalking captures the fishing skills of the Egret.
The shags are there too, feasting on the fish stew.
– Eddie Vagg
For Cherylee Kirby from Murrin Bridge Aboriginal community, who lives 50 km from Ballyroggan weir, this was her first time at the public camping ground and weir. Access to a canoe and binoculars is not commonplace in her community. For her, the experience was ‘deadly’.
Perched up front, she was the spotter for the team and was in control – “take the canoe up there! I see blobs of white.” So we did, and to our joy we saw a yellow-billed spoonbill with advanced chicks. This was a great find, as they are usually the more elusive nesters compared to cormorants and darters.
For Cherylee, fishing and making johhny cakes at the campfire by the river with all the grandkids is one of her favourite ways to spend time as a family and community. The February Waterwatch trip inspired a family outing to Ballyroggan weir, where watching the pelicans and egrets feed upon the fish aggregating below the weir kept everyone entertained for hours.
From an environmental water manager’s perspective, expanding the program to integrate fish and waterbird monitoring around the water quality is a natural progression. It fosters a more holistic understanding of ‘the system’, and of the value of water for the environment and its broader benefits. Through the principle of learning by doing under expert guidance, it continues to raise awareness of the Flow-MER program and broader DPE–EHG water for the environment program within local communities. And the learning is not one way! Experiencing the landscape through the lens of people who live there, and who have seen decades of change, is also a privilege not to be missed.
I’m tucked up in the front portion of three person canoe. Chaddy the Birdman is counting. On the Ballyroggan weir pool. Michele is jotting down numbers and types as he calls. Cormorant nests numerous. White fluffy chicks in nests . Older ones pop into the water for safety as the canoe cruises underneath on a battery powered motor. Nankeen Night herons fly in the daylight. Must have chicks to feed is the reasoning by Chaddy. Hundreds of nests logged in the half hour journey cruising around the weir pool. Adam in his tinny checking on fish species passes by under a huge colony of bats. Amazing day.
– Eddie Vagg
The Lachlan River flows through the lands of the Nari Nari, Ngiyampaa, Wiradjuri, Muthi Muthi and Yita Yita Nations, forming part of Songlines and Dreaming tracks. It supports a diverse range of landscapes and species that vary enormously through extremes of weather conditions. Our work here is focusing on monitoring the outcomes of environmental water in the lower Lachlan river system, from Lake Brewster to the Great Cumbung Swamp.
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