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Government pledges $10 million to revitalise Cooks River

The funding will contribute towards riverbank stabilisation, tree planting and the installation of litter traps.

The Cooks River is enjoyed by over a dozen local community groups. Image: Cooks River Alliance.

The Federal Government has pledged $10 million to revitalise the Cooks River in south-eastern Sydney. The funding will contribute towards riverbank stabilisation, tree planting and the installation of litter traps.

Cooks River Alliance - a partnership between Bayside Council, Inner West Council, Canterbury Bankstown Council, Strathfield Council and Sydney Water - will deliver the restoration project.

“This is wonderful news for Bayside and the Cooks River,” Bayside Mayor Dr Christina Curry said.

“It is exciting to see the incredible work being done to ensure this wonderful natural resource will be available for future generations to enjoy.”

The Cooks River is considered one of the most polluted urban rivers in Australia, a victim to the toxic consequences of urbanisation. Since 1997, the Cooks River Alliance has been fighting to improve the health of the river.

“This announcement is an important step in transitioning the Cooks River from a neglected urban waterway to an oasis from the urban landscape for people and wildlife alike,” said a Cooks River Alliance spokesperson.

Citing research from the University of Wollongong’s PowerLab, the spokesperson explains: “As the science demonstrates, the creation of [vegetation and water body] spaces has a significant impact on community and individual health and wellbeing, doing everything from reducing crime to helping to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, dementia and loneliness in the community.”

Since 1997, various studies have indicated high levels of faecal contaminants, poor water quality and elevated concentrations of heavy metals such as zinc, lead, mercury and silver in the Cooks River.

Despite the pollution, the river currently serves as a nature escape for residents, facilitating a range of cultural and sporting activities, including kayaking, canoeing, golf and other ball sports.

Member for Watson Tony Burke notes that access to the recreational and wellbeing benefits of the Cooks River is not equally distributed.

“It’s a river, but for more than a hundred years it’s been managed like it was a stormwater drain.

“This announcement is a decision – a decision that says the beauty of the natural environment shouldn’t be limited to the most wealthy postcodes,” said Burke.

There is currently no legislation in NSW related to the management of its urban rivers, leaving organisations like the Cooks Rivers Alliance vulnerable. City of Sydney Council and Georges River Council have previously pulled out of the alliance.

Acting President of Stormwater NSW Dr Andrew Thomas is calling for a single entity to be responsible for the management of urban rivers. He says that the current responsibility is split along complex lines of policy responsibility, land ownership and asset ownership.

“As a consequence of this kaleidoscope of ownership and responsibility, it is effectively impossible to identify who is ultimately responsible for the wholistic management of urban rivers like the Cooks River…More time is spent trying to identify responsibility rather than getting on with the job of managing our rivers at a catchment scale.

“This could be corrected by the development and enactment of, say, a NSW Catchment Management Act, that includes mandating groups like the Cooks River Alliance, who should be part of them, and how they should be governed,” Dr. Thomas said.

A Cooks River Alliance Aboriginal Partnership Strategy is currently under development in conjunction with the Cooks River Alliance and local First Nations community groups such as the Gamay Rangers, Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and Lyrebird Dreaming.

The $10 million funding is part of the Federal Government's Urban Rivers and Catchments Program. Specifically, it will support the restoration of waterways at Parry Park (Cox’s Creek) and Bardwell Valley-Coolibah Reserve, improve the habitat of the threatened green and golden bell frogs and create a new paddle trail on the Cooks River.

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